This photo shows the view I have from my camping chair under the trees at my sprawling urban apartment complex. The houses and the boats and the docks are removed. I only wish I could remove the noise that accompanies them. It was quite hot in my corner of the world the other day, so I went down to my sanctuary to read in the shade. My peace was interjected with loud voices and a radio at the nearby swimming pool, and the blast of city machinery doing maintainance on the trail next to us. Traffic on the congested arterial on the other side provided percussion for this orchestra of pollution. Given all the variables in my life, this is the best place for me to live, so I must learn to cope. I take myself away to the beach at off times of day, and that helps immensely. This early this morning before the noise ensued I heard birds and bullfrogs. Delightful. This is not enough, however. I have to make peace with this situation, so I returned to the mindfulness teaching of Thicht Naht Hanh. In response to a question about dealing with stress at work, he said this:
“…when you hear the telephone ringing you can consider it to be the sound of the mindfulness bell. You practice telephone meditation. Every time you hear the telephone ringing you stay exactly where you are (laughter). You breathe in and breathe out and enjoy your breathing. Listen, listen-this wonderful sound brings you back to your true home. Then when you hear the second ring you stand up and you go to the telephone with dignity (laughter). That means in the style of walking meditation (laughter). You know that you can afford to do that, because if the other person has something really important to tell you, she will not hang up before the third ring. That is what we call telephone meditation. We use the sound as the bell of mindfulness.” Thicht Nhat Hanh www.ic.sunysb.edu/Clubs/buddhism/dailylife/thayq-a.html
So, I will try using the sound of the leaf blower as the bell of mindfulness. Hopefully my faithfulness to the practice will replace impatience and frustration. You may find the embedded video helpful. Sister Dang Nhiem from Deer Park Monastery. I close with her “Poem for Inviting the Bell.”
My body, speech and mind in perfect oneness.
I send my heart along with the sound of the bell.
May the hearer awaken from forgetfulness and transcend all anxiety.
“Forgive yourself for not being at peace. The moment you completely accept your non-peace, your non-peace is transmuted into peace. Anything you accept fully will get you there, will take you into peace. This is the miracle of surrender.”
We are not perfect, so why spend energy focusing on our limitations when we could use that energy to come home to our souls? We are like monkeys aimlessly swinging from tree to tree screeching, “Where am I, where am I?” All we have to do is sit still in one tree and we have already taken the first step into our inner sanctuary.
I know this to be true. Someone told me I was this monkey at age twenty-seven. The words singed my ego as they found their mark. Eventually, I accepted the truth and began the practice of sitting still. It’s been a long journey.
T.S. Eliot gave us one of the world’s most poignant lines of mystic thought, “For most of us, there is only the unattended Moment, the moment in and out of time… music heard so deeply /That it is not heard at all, but you are the music/ While the music lasts.” Likewise, we ARE the Power while the Power lasts. The minute we HAVE power we have entered a place of no-power, a vapid simulation of life.
A Spiritual Practice for Becoming the Power
Breathing in, I become God’s Intellectual Power.
Breathing out, I release ignorance.
Breathing in, I become God’s Loving Power.
Breathing out, I release domination.
Breathing in, I become God’s Energizing Power.
Breathing out, I release complacency.
Let Us Pray:
Intelligent Power, grant me
a mind that is clean and clear.
Show me my way.
Loving Power, embrace me in my need.
Energizing Power, set me on fire
with your truth.
Eric’s description of waging is delightful and uplifting…a fine complement to my latest post. Enjoy!
Originally posted on Erik Conover :
June 30th, 2014: Meatpacking District, Manhattan,
“You take good care of yourself and when…if…you get the privilege of living as long as I have you will be glad you did”
Today I met a man named Feliciano.
I can’t complain about my day job. I lifeguard at a luxury hotel to pay the rent, my undergrad education, and for my acting classes. The pool I lifeguard at is on the fourteenth floor rooftop and has one of the most breath taking views of the great expanse that is New York City.
As I sit passing the time nose deep in a good book, an old man casually walks out to the pool deck, book in hand. He smiles at me and gently asks,
“Do you have a place I could sit and read in the shade?”
There are no umbrellas at the pool, even…
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I have lived here at my 55+ apartment building for three years now. During this time I have been honored to develop a relationship of sorts with Maxine, who is almost ninety years old. A lifetime dancer, Maxine stands at least 5’8”. She carries one trekking pole as a balance aid (I am trying to introduce her to the benefits of two trekking poles!) and her mod clothes always complement her vivid orange hair. For years Maxine has taught line dancing at the local senior center; now she sits on the sidelines dictating instructions to one of her seven children who in turn demonstrates the steps to the class. Once I met her by the elevator and she was excited to tell me she had just gotten “such a deal on potatoes at Costco,” and would I like some? She invited me in and shared five stout bakers with me. We take care of each other at the Blakely. Another time Maxine rode the elevator with me and announced, “You seem like a really nice girl. Would you come for coffee at my apartment?” It was a delightful hour of storytelling evoked by each antique that graced her living room. My most poignant conversation with Maxine occurred the time I came upon her unexpectedly. A look of terror passed over her countenance. She apologized, saying that once she had been assaulted and since then surprise is an unwelcome experience. Today was different. I rode the elevator with Maxine and her oldest daughter, who must be at least seventy-five. Maxine seemed to function well on the surface, but I noticed much more disorientation than I have ever seen before. Her daughter’s demeanor hinted at the beginning of exasperation, and perhaps fear of what lies immediately around the corner. It scares me too. What is it like entering this stage of aging? What can we do to live in it with grace? I am only seventy, yet I have momentary glimpses of it. I like to tell myself these moments of disorientation stem from a physical condition, and they do. But… Living here reinforces what I have longed believed, that we grow old as we have lived all along. I think the way to do this is to live life as the mystics set it before us: let go, let be, live from our deepest being. I am working on letting go of the need to rant about the things that irritate me in a 55+ community. Ranting just gives the negative power over me, and instead of living life, I live the rant. Not pleasant for me or for those around me. The facility of animals to adapt to their environments inspires me. Someday I too will be disoriented; right now I learn how to take care of myself and simultaneously respect the place others are in. In this moment I type on a computer in the communal “office.” It is air-conditioned. My apartment is 90 degrees. It’s working out just fine, too! I may have met some “Chatty Kathys or Keiths” here, but not this time. I’m learning to imagine ahead of time what the effects of my choices might be, so that surprise doesn’t sabbotage me. This leads to more instances of letting be and the possibility of living from my deepest self. I’m far from sainthood. I almost strangled my cat at 3:00 A.M. this morning when she decided it was play time. However, I think I’ve come up with a template for the spiritual practice of growing old. Good luck to you if you share my era, good luck to you if you have to deal with my era!
June 28, 2014
Today I reblog this piece that I wrote last November to honor my friend Jim. His poem about marching in New York’s Gay Pride Parade in 1987 still carries the emotion evoked by Stonewall.
We arrived in Berkeley in September 1978, young theology students, eager to change the world. I was, anyway. Jim wanted to play. He was so full of life and passion for all things beautiful. Years later he would admit to being more immature than anything at that time. So was I.
A month later all hell broke loose. Harvey Milk was murdered across the Bay, and Jim’s life was never the same. Along with several other priests in our program he claimed his identity and joined the march for gay rights in San Francisco. The intensity of his rage frightened me for a long time, until he found peace and I found courage. We left Berkeley, and our former selves, and continued 32 years of friendship.
Not likely to be branded as a mystic by strangers, Jim was, nevertheless, an extroverted mystic extraordinaire. He was like King David, life spilling over in love and sin; joined at the hip to the God he so passionately loved. At age thirty- six he wrote an essay entitled, “My Life in the Good God balloon.” He described how he pushed, pulled and recoiled off the balloon’s boundaries, always moving closer to the center. He said that the shape is God, and that his destiny was to always move to the limits of the shape. He felt called to always love the shape, himself, the testing and pushing, and his fellow testers. I am deeply grateful to live in that balloon with him and with our soul-sister Cynthia, in a new way now that Jim has died. The balloon has expanded to massive dimensions!
Blinded by stereotypical concepts of mystics, strangers would not have readily seen the deep waters of Carmelite mysticism running through Jim. They expected, instead, to see prayer beads, and lowered eyes. With Jim, I got his alter-ego, Beatrice, an elephant gallivanting in a dazzling tutu, shouting to me, “Live, Reet, Live!” I miss Jim’s irreverent humor, and even the tirades he rained down on me when fear convinced me to stand down in the face of injustice. To honor his courage and expansive love, I stand for the rights of all those who experience injustice because of their sexual identity. Not because it’s politically correct but because it’s right. Here is the poem he wrote on the occasion of the Gay Pride Parade in New York in 1987. Perhaps you too will re-frame your portrait of a mystic:
Corpus Christi: New York “87″
Sunny Sunday in late June.
Joyous and free.
Searchers and seekers
Walking with dignity and pride.
Approaching the Cathedral:
Blue barricades, blue flashing lights
On cop cars and paddy wagons;
Blue shirted police arm to arm
Protecting the Cathedral.
The front steps blocked by
A blue Army in blue berets
Shaking rosaries, thumping Bibles
Yelling “Sinners Sinners” as we passed by.
“Shame, shame, shame,” we murmured
Softly in reply.
I looked for Jesus beyond the barricades.
“Thank God,” I said.
At 3 o’clock the parade stopped.
A city fell silent.
From the Village up Fifth Avenue.
Coming closer and closer
Passing over us
Until the whole sky was filled with
My heart burned within,
I remembered all who died of AIDS.
Gazing at the heavens,
I watched a great loving God
Gather balloons, holding them high
In God’s bright blue sky
Above the blue baracades, blue lights
Blue armies & blue shirted cops.
My God gathered these children,
Sons & daughters into a peace-filled
Turning, I saw two older women,
Pioneers and witnesses of the movement,
Weeping and holding each other as they
Too gazed upward.
You have feasted on the photographic work of Lynn Schooler previously on this blog ( https://www.facebook.com/lynn.schooler). I seek to honor Lynn’s work with this poem, and to call all of us to a universal seeing and acceptance.