Mindful

Mindful

Lent 34

 

Every so often a new word seems to capture our attention.  Recently the term “mindfulness” has become trendy.  It is, however, an integral part of our growing and always has been ever since the first time we fell as babies trying to walk.  During the fifty days of Easter we will discuss this topic more thoroughly but today, the Beatitudes are calling us to be mindful and aware of the events in our own lives and how our response determines the chart we course in our being.

 

Throughout this series we have discussed cause and effect and attitude.  We have compared our living to following a treasure map.  We all are truly adventures on a quest for a better life, hopefully not only for ourselves but for all humanity.  The paths we walk are not always the path we anticipated. 

 

Born Deirdre Blomfield and later adding Brown to her name, the American Buddhist nun Ani Pema Chodron practices the Tibetan tradition through the Kagyu school and Shambhala tradition.  She grew up in Connecticut and graduated from college at UC Berkley.  She became a mother(and grandmother) and taught elementary school in California and New Mexico.  On a trip in her later thirtie’s to France, she encountered

 

While in her mid-thirties, Deirdre traveled to the French Alps and encountered Lama Chime Rinpoche, with whom she studied for several years.   Soon her path led to her becoming a novice nun and then receiving full ordination with the name Ani Pema Chodron.  Ani Pema served as the director of the Karma Dzong, in Boulder, CO, until moving in 1984 to rural Cape Breton, Nova Scotia to be the director of Gampo Abbey.

 

I think this Western nun’s philosophy towards finding mindfulness in our own living is best summed up in her book titles:  “Start Where You Are”; “Comfortable with Uncertainty”; “The Wisdom of No Escape – How to Love Yourself and Your World”; “Living Beautifully”.  Her philosophy is simple, direct, and true:  “The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”

 

To be mindful is simply, quite simply, to be aware.  I referenced a baby learning to walk.  The child will fall several times and yet, the wisdom in getting up and trying again is the key.  We learn to walk not because of any first time success but because when we fall, we get back up and try again.  With each unsuccessful attempt, we gain knowledge.  We become aware.  We learn to be mindful of how to balance and then take that first successful step.  Blessed are the children who fall because they learn to get back up.

 

Nun and spiritual teacher Pema Chodron encourages us to view our world, being mindful of the lessons found in it.  “The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes. … If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.”  Then and truly then, will we become mindful in our own living.

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Believing in the Impossible

Believing in the Impossible

Epiphany 16

 

“There is no man living that cannot do more than he thinks he can.”  Henry Ford was living proof of his quote and yesterday a man was elected to the presidency of the United States who proved that as well.  This will not be a political post.  It is about encouraging us all to stop outside of any box someone or we have placed ourselves in and try.  Attempt the impossible… because it just might happen.

 

There is really only way one to make the impossible happen and that is to believe it can.  You must believe in the possibility of the impossible becoming possible.  And no, I have not gone crazy or am trying to win a bet using the word possible or its variations as many times as I can in one sentence.  Lewis Carrol wrote of this in his “Alice in Wonderland.” 

 

“Alice laughed.  ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said. ‘One can’t believe impossible things.’  ‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

 

In his autobiography “The Crack-Up”, F. Scott Fitzgerald speaks of this.  “Before I go on with this short history, let me make a general observation– the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.  One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. This philosophy fitted on to my early adult life, when I saw the improbable, the implausible, often the “impossible,” come true.”

 

Ah but the book is titled “The Crack-Up” you might be thinking.  Isn’t is crazy to believe the impossible to be possible?  After all, they are contradictory terms.  Yes they are.  Perhaps the true question of value is “Are those terms factual?”  In fact, is it even possible to define something as impossible?

 

Sigmund Freud once said “It is impossible to escape the impression that people commonly use false standards of measurement — that they seek power, success and wealth for themselves and admire them in others, and that they underestimate what is of true value in life.”  We might inquire of Dr. Freud by what standard of measurement would he define the impossible.

 

History is full of impossible things becoming possible.  Last year during this season of Epiphany we discussed people who had their own great epiphanies and invented new things, some of which would have been deemed impossible at one time.  They were people who attempted the impossible or unknown and not only made it possible but also known and popular, used in everyday life.

 

Believe that you are weak and you will be.  Believe that you are forever handicapped and you will never thrive.  Lee Wise wrote a really powerful sentence about this.  “Belief in what matters most holds the power of creating legacies that matter most in the long run.”  I believe in you and your power to live a life of intention, a life that will better the world … for you, for me, and for tomorrow. 

A Leap of Faith

A Leap of Faith

Christmas 10

 

“I don’t know what we’re doing here – you and me … I don’t know what we are or what we can be, but this doesn’t have to be about that. This can just be about … a chance. Taking a chance.”  We are taught at children to look and not touch.  During the holiday season, one can peruse various markets and stores and see young children holding their hands behind their backs, actively looking but not touching.  British author Dianna Hardy, in her book “Broken Lights” tells us life is about doing exactly the opposite.

 

Kwanzaa is completed and families have returned to their normal routines.  The lights of Hanukah have been lit for the last time and we are fast approaching the end of the twelve days of Christmas.  The tenth day of Christmas, just finished in all time zones, speaks of ten lords a leaping … after the nine ladies dancing one can only presume.

 

It brings to my mind a question.  Do we merely dance through this thing we call life or do we leap?  Are we really willing to take a chance or are we simply content to waltz through known steps with familiar companions along heavily traveled pathways?  Certainly a young woman never danced with a stranger in the assemblies of old.  Have we taken the edicts of ancient societies and used them to restrict our own living?

 

The book “False Gods” by Scottish writer Graham McNeill contains a very interesting conversation:  “When you have come to the edge of all that you know and are about to drop off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things will happen,’ the Warmaster had told him.  ‘And what are they?’ he had asked.  ‘That there will be something solid to stand on or you’ll be taught to fly,’ laughed Horus as he jumped.”

 

I cannot remember a time when certain relatives did not label me a “wimp”.  The term itself is interesting and although meant as an insult, I considered it something of a compliment.  It is also incorrect but more on that later.  To be a wimp means one is a weakling or lacks courage but therein lays the dilemma.  You see, such a term can only be defined within the narrow parameters of one’s field of vision.  Growing up with relatives who were always injuring themselves defying the laws of gravity, I considered myself wiser and that while they might consider me a wimp, it really just meant I was smart enough not to be so injured.

 

When it comes to people, I have great courage.  It is not that I am that brave; I just am that full of faith.  I believe in people, hence this blog.  The term “wimp” has other meanings, though.  “Weakly Interacting Massive Particle” is an acronym for the dark matter that comprises most of the universe, known and unknown.  Simply put, it is all the stuff we do not yet know about our world beyond our planet. 

 

WIMP as an acronym has two other meanings.  The first is a computer term: In computing stands for ‘Window, Icon, Menu, Pointer’.   This acronym was developed in 1980 by Merzouga Wilberts and though it is seldom used, we all use it every day.  Most of us have a desktop that contains icons which provide a short cut to a program.  These icons serve as a menu to our programs and when we click on the icon, the program opens.  Congratulations, you just used a WIMP to access this blog.

 

The last acronym for WIMP was devised by a politician and so don’t be surprised that it is, like the term used by my cousins, considered an insult.  Russ Limbaugh developed WIMP to refer to a “women influenced male person”, something he considered less than desirable, less manly.  Mr. Limbaugh has apparently forgotten that no one is born without being influenced and grown within a woman’s body.  He himself, therefore, is a WIMP, based upon his own definition.

 

Wimps are not necessarily people who do not take a leap into the world.  They might just be people who take a different path to that leap.  I certainly do not want you to leap out in front of a speeding train or moving vehicle today.  I would advise you to take the advice of Sarah Ban Breathnach.  “Take a leap of faith and begin this wondrous New Year by believing.  Believe in yourself.”

Who Dat?

Family of Man – Identity

Pentecost 113

 

This blog post is the first of a three-part series that might be entitled Family Tree or Family of Mankind.  It is based upon an old folk tale about three beings – Willow, Branch, Leaf.  There will be more on their story on part three.  We are a few hours out after two bombings on the East coast of the United States of America.  One was at the scene of a Marine Corp marathon which, quite fortunately, had a delayed starting time.  The other was in a busy section of New York City, frequented more by locals than tourists.  Both were not just attacks on those in the immediate area.  They were attacks on the family tree of mankind.

 

Who are you?  When I first began writing this blog, someone asked me that very question.  Then I was asked to complete a profile and again, that question came up.  What is your identity?  More importantly, what do you want people to remember about you?  In the second attack, a young lad gave up his seat in an ambulance to an older gentleman.  Both were injured although thankfully not too seriously.  I do not know the name of the young teen but I will forever remember his act of chivalry and generosity to his elder.  For me his name is unimportant; his behavior tells a story of a marvelous human being.

 

We’ve discussed in past blog posts about “Who dat?”  I know many New Orleans Saints NFL team fans want to believe they invented this phrase but, alas, history proves it predates the National Football League.  It was first sung as a line in a song in an operetta written by Dunbar and Will Marion Cook entitled “Clorinda: the Origin of the Cakewalk”.  It was presented as part of the 1898 “summer Nights” show produced by E. E. Rice. 

 

US service men picked up the catchy phrase and it was often heard over plane radios as servicemen radioed each other.  One of the lines of the original song asks a question we might all ask ourselves:  “Who dat inside who’s dat outside; who’s dat inside who dat well outside?”

 

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, a man quoted in this blog from time to time, frequently asks not just his flock but his fellow human beings:  “By what identity do we want to be known?”  In other words, when it comes to believing and sharing God’s love, do we want to be picky and choose only certain ones?

 

George Orwell once wrote “Happiness can exist only in acceptance.”  No one wants to be an outsider.  We all want acceptance.  We all wonder what is on the other side of a closed door.  The enticement of the unknown affects us all.  Who do you want to be?  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr wanted to be known as a man.  He wanted his children to be just children, not identified by color but by their being.  They had names, not shame.  They were God’s own.  Maybe not in the eyes of people way back when but now we mujst continue that fight for acceptance to all by all …Who dat?

 

Who are you?  What do you believe?  What is evidenced by how you live?   I have to live my beliefs or else they are worth nothing.  That is what gives me my identity.  Not what someone else thinks or sanctions but my own actions.  My identity is what I do, what I say, how I evidence my faith in my life.

 

We humans are a curious lot.  I am certain someone famous has said that but tonight it is my own quote.  In an effort to support and expand their own beliefs, these bombers are actually creating a schism with themselves and the world.  The issue seems about who qualifies as being entitled to respect, love, and forgiveness…all those things we humans expect. 

 

I do at times if these fanatics think they have invented a new breed of mammal.  It really is not about who the outcasts are.  It is completely about who we become with such decision.  What identity do we then take on when we fail to recognize all as having a right to live?  This is not living a life.  To bomb innocents who you do not know and with whom you have no connection is to create a division for yourself.  You become the enemy of not only the people who are your victims but also your own being.

 

Martin Luther King, Jr, had a dream that one day all people and children would be seen as just that – people and children.  “Who dat inside who’s dat outside; who’s dat inside who dat well outside?”  We cannot be well in our identity if we fail to see the inner soul and respond to the being within. 

 

My identity is not that of any superior being.  I am no better than another.  Who dat?  It’s me, a child of my creator, a child of the world, a child who still hears the echoes of Dr. King’s words.  I, too, have a dream, a dream of a world in which respect is given to all living things.  My identity is based upon equality. When it comes to acceptance, I don’t think anyone should be left outside.   Who are you?

Swimming in the Moment

Swimming in the Moment

Pentecost 80

 

Sometimes life takes where you never thought you would be.  I mean that in a more of a metaphorical sense rather than an actual geographical place on a map, although that is certainly true as well.  Today we are going to discuss what it means to be, to be present, to have a presence, to recognize that we are one but one of many.

 

As you know by now, I don’t discourage opposite points of view.  As long as your comments are within the boundaries of charitable discourse, I happily post them when so desired.  I should note that a great many people ask that I respond but not specifically post their comments.  Again, I am happy to oblige.  What I will not do, however, is engage in a debate based upon inaccuracy or out and out lies.  That serves no purpose.  I do believe if one is going to enter the conversation one should be present in the conversation and that includes speaking from a point of personal preference and/or knowledge.  There is nothing wrong with ignorance but we do need to do more than just flap our jaws and move our tongue around our mouths in such a way as to create sound.

 

The past several days one of the biggest stories about the Rio 2016 Olympics had nothing to do with competition.  Four Team USA male swimmers displayed behavior quite unbecoming and possibly very illegal.  They went from being role models to potential mugshot models.  I do not know what truly occurred or why they made the decisions they obviously made.  What I do know is that, for a moment, they lost sight of the gratitude they should have had – gratitude for their abilities, their parents and families who supported them, their training, and the nation that allowed them to represent as a member of Team USA.

 

Discussing a viewpoint based upon untrue facts is not being present in an intelligent manner.  This post is, as I mentioned, about being present and having a presence.  I am approaching the subject of gratitude from a standpoint of being grateful.  I believe strongly that we need to live in a way that is present in our beliefs and vice versa.  How is your deity reflected in your living?  How do we show when we are part of a group, bound by common feelings or ideals?

 

We often act out of ignorance and that is, quite frankly, the best way to learn.  When we act out of stupidity, though, well….That serves no purpose at all.   The true hero, in my humble opinion, is the person who lives gratitude for life every minute.  So here we are, with the United States Olympic Committee issuing an apology for four gold medalists.   Instead of marching in the closing ceremonies proudly wearing their gold medals, these four are the center of a shame firestorm and are facing real punitive actions for their moment of ingratitude.

 

How often do we live the moment based upon the tenets of our beliefs and how often do we live in the moment by just stretching our ego?  I planned to write this post about having a spiritual presence of gratitude and feeling thankful.  Instead I find myself wondering how often we let our ego be our guide.  Do we speak with the love, charity and kindness of our beliefs or do we speak to propel our stature?  I am far more comfortable thinking about religion than confronting what may be my own avarice narcissism, I freely admit.

 

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, claimed ego to be the enemy of compassion.   “The foundation of the Buddha’s teachings lies in compassion, and the reason for practicing the teachings is to wipe out the persistence of ego, the number-one enemy of compassion.”  Perhaps the best way to live each moment, to be present in not only our living but also in our beliefs, is to not have discussions of religion and spirituality but to simply lose our ego, shed it like a butterfly sheds its cocoon.  Maybe the best way to be present in the moment is to get lost in the compassion for another and to simply give thanks for the breath you are able to take in this moment.

 

 

To Be Squeaky

To Be …Squeaky

Pentecost 16

 

Recently I heard someone give a speech about “Squeaky”.  This was the nickname of one of the delightfully special people on earth.  The speaker related a story in which a group of young college students were ridiculing Squeaky and mocking him.  Squeaky was a full grown man in body nut his mind still saw things with a child’s innocence so he failed to understand that this young men were not being friendly but actually very tacky and rude.

 

The speaker spoke of how he could have stepped up and stopped the situation but he did not.  I cannot tell where the speaker was going with his story because he simply said “We all have those times in our past where we could have done the right thing but did not.”

 

I really do not care what your particular faith is or if you consider yourself spiritual rather than religious.  I care not for the color of your hair or your intelligence quotient.  What I care about is your being and I think such an attitude is necessary is making anything something better than it is.

 

This series is about making the ordinary times of our lives count for something, make them extraordinary.  We are sixteen days into this series and I can tell you it is both the most ignored series I’ve written in over eight hundred posts and the most controversial, judging by the feedback.  Who knew doing good was controversial?

 

It is true that we all have had those instances in our lives, missed opportunities in which we could have put another’s feeling and being ahead of our own.  Being selfless for another is not an easy decision nor does it happen without forethought.  There are even those who feel it lessens their own being to consider the feelings of someone instead of just thinking about their own.  I feel very sorry for those people.

 

Often the ones who are putting others first are invisible.  After all, it is the squeaky cog that gets the oil.  Is there anything wrong with being invisible?  Check out Pentecost 9 of this series for an answer to that; the post published on May 23rd.  Emily Dickinson wrote a poem about being invisible, being an outsider in a world of egomaniacs.

 

“I’m nobody! Who are you? Are you nobody, too? Then there’s a pair of us -don’t tell! They’d banish us, you know. How dreary to be somebody! How public, like a frog To tell your name the livelong day To an admiring bog!”

 

Dickinson lived a life of obscurity although today she is considered one of the foremost American poets.  Only ten of her poems were ever published during her lifetime.  Emily Dickinson lived her life the way she wrote – one her own terms.  She has served as the inspiration for many great poets and is one of a handful of American female poets.

 

Of interest to us in this discussion is that she was present in her own life.  In the opening story, the speaker was present but not really living HIS life.  He was going along with the crowd instead of standing up for his friend Squeaky.

 

I once was told to put others first and they would in turn put me first.  Sadly, that piece of advice did not come true.  However, it did make me a much happier person in looking back on decisions I have made.  What we do today does not only affect our living in the moment but in the future.  The whole point of altruism is to act in such a way that it benefits the present AND the future.  Otherwise, what is the purpose of expending our energy?

 

Dickinson’s two stanza poem speaks volumes about the silliness of someone devoting all their energy to simply croaking about themselves.  Living in such a way that your good deeds speak for your is much more satisfying and leaves a legacy that will be remembered.  None of us is born by ourselves.  It takes two to create new life and that new life requires assistance from others.  If that is not proof that we need to help each other, I don’t know what is.

 

Maybe it is a bit whimsical to describe this series as making the ordinary extraordinary but there is nothing wrong with having a wee bit of whimsy in one’s daily life.  Life to make the most of yourself but remember, some of the best paths to doing such involve doing something for another.  Stand up for what is right and let your own voice be heard, squeaking among those that are simply croaking.  Take the opportunities life presents you and do the right thing.  Carpe diem – seize the day to be!

Breaking Through

Breaking Through

Pentecost #182

 

There was water everywhere and mother of the children of the spirit of all possibilities realized that something was needed for those animals that could not live in the water.  The one who could envision anything and everything was called “Kitchi Manitou” and he was the creator of the Ojibwa people, a tribe of the First Nations of Canada.  There are many variations of the mythology of Kitchi Manitou.  In most, there are lesser Manitous, the spirit of the wind, the Sky God woman who bore Kitchi Manitou’s children, and the water Manitous.

 

The Water Manitous were not happy that Geezhigo-Quae, the Sky God, was having the children of Kitchi Manitou and they flooded the world with water.  Sky Woman as the deity of the sky was called realized she needed to help those animals who could survive in the water.  Suddenly she saw an animal that, although it breathed air, could swim.  She called the big giant turtle to help and other animals that could swim.

 

Their myth stated that if Sky Woman had some of the soil from which Kitchi Manitou had made the world, then she could recreate some land and save the animals that could not survive in the water.  The giant turtle tried to dive to the bottom of the ocean but it could not reach the depths it needed to reach to get some of the soil.  The other animals tried, the loon and the beaver.  No one had any success.  Finally the last animal to try was the small muskrat.  Everyone was losing hope and fear was taking control.

 

We all have recently felt the fear in many due to the recent tragedies last week in Paris and today in Mali.  When almost two hundred people are taken hostage it shakes all of our confidence in the safety of our homes and lodgings.  Many do lose hope and even more have reacted in fear.

 

The muskrat in the Turtle Island myth of the Ojibwa knew that same fear.  However, in the myth, the muskrat decided that no one else was left and it was it time to make the effort.  Muskrats are not very deep divers so no one had much confidence.  The muskrat took several deep breaths, according to the legend, and then disappeared beneath the surface of the waters.  The day turned to night and the muskrat did not reappear.

 

A new day dawned in our story and suddenly Sky Woman saw something floating in the distance.  It was muskrat but he had perished in his quest.  Suddenly they notice something held tightly in one of his paws.  It was the soil, the soil needed to make new land for the animals and the children Geezhigo-Quae, the Sky Woman would bear, the children of Kitchi Manitou.  The little, lowly muskrat had done what no one else could, what no one else had the faith to do.

 

Sky Woman rubbed the soil on the back of the big giant turtle and suddenly a continent grew.  The Ojibwa mythology says the land was called Turtle Island; we know it today as the continent of North America.  In time the children of Geezhigo-Quae, who now was given the name Nokomis, and Kitchi Manitou were born and they in turn had children who then had their own children.

 

In time, this family that had its beginnings on soil that took root on the back of a turtle made possible because of a lowly muskrat who gave his effort for the good of all, spread across the land of Turtle Island.  They became known as Ojibwa, Chippewa, Ottawa, Pottawatomi, and Mississauga.  Today we call them Canadians and Americans.  All due, according to the myth of the Ojibwa, because of a muskrat who tried, who did not give in to fear but instead gave life his very best.

 

We have all those times when fear rises to the forefront of our emotions.  Fear is not always a bad thing.  It can protect us and give us cause to rethink our actions.  However, when it comes to the very essence of life, we cannot let fear define us.  We have a choice in everything we do and sometimes things are not as successful as we might like.  This does not mean that we have failed, though.  The muskrat is not extinct and the Ojibwa believe it is because one gave his life for the world.

 

Life offers us many lessons every day.  We can learn from our experiences or we can let them defeat us.  The husband of one of the victims in Paris wrote this week to the terrorists:  “I will not give you my hatred.”  We cannot give life our fear.  Life needs our efforts.  We will thrive when we break through our fear to try.  The success is in the effort, not the results.  Results are seldom quantifiable so who can say what real success is?  To define success depends on perspective.  When we realize that we win when we live a life of faith and goodness, then winning becomes possible in every way for everyone, even a little muskrat.