Dancing In the Dark

Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light; I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” – Sarah Williams

My kids are going through this “scared of the dark” phase. It seems to be seasonally inspired as the nights and mornings get darker. When we have 16 hours of daylight in the summer, they don’t see the dark very often but right now we’re at just over 10 hours of daylight. By the time we get to the solstice, it’ll be something like only eight hours of light each day.

I asked them what the dark feels like to them. Mr. D said surprise. Miss O added that someone could be a foot away in the dark waiting to snatch them and they wouldn’t know.

It makes me think of one of my darkest moments. When I miscarried a baby 4 years ago, overnight the world completely lost all its color and I couldn’t give a care about anything. In the moments that I felt anything, it was anger like I’d never felt before – rage, really – and nobody could do anything right. Except Miss O – I could muster some energy to pull it together for her. This started 4 days before Christmas, and I stumbled through the motions of the holidays just trying to be polite. I could get the smallest glimmer of peace in the morning when I meditated and every once in a while something amused me but overall the landscape looked completely black/white/gray with an occasional spot of color that pulled me through.

In a few weeks I evened out and I could work through the loss. I had stopped taking all the hormones that come with invitro fertilization when I miscarried so I guessed that there was a strong physical component to my experience of darkness.

Going through this gave me the great big a-ha that my assumption that my life experience and outlook were solid was totally wrong.  And I also began to understand that others might come at life from a completely different felt experience.

Mr. D told me his strategy about his dark – get a flashlight. And I love that because it’s a brave looking into the dark. To illuminate the things that scare us so we can lean in to look more closely. And I keep reminding them that there are many things we see in the dark that we can’t see otherwise – like our adventure to see the stars, Halloween decorations not to mention our own frailty. It’s easier to be vulnerable in the dark.

Sometimes the dark makes things visible– and they are different things to see and learn from than in the light.

My kids love Rihanna’s song, “Dancing in the Dark” from the movie, Home. So I’m suggesting that we can dance in the dark until it doesn’t seem so scary and then stay with it long enough to maybe even understand ourselves and others better.

Wired to Yearn

One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art in conducting oneself in lower regions by memory of what one has seen higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.” – Rene Daumal

U2 released the song I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For in 1987 just as I was graduating from high school. The song filled me with a longing that seemed perfectly appropriate for a young woman in the summer before she headed off to college.

In this summer 35 years later, I’ve heard the song probably as many times in close repetition as I did in 1987 because my kids are crazy about the movie Sing 2 in which I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For figures prominently.

And the song hits me just as deeply, filling me with yearning. Which might be chalked up to nostalgia for those carefree days of youth. But it also strikes me that our capacity to yearn is also something that is uniquely human. Our thirst for depth, purpose and God surfaces in some sort of repetition as we traverse our days, and it drives us to look for more or dares us to try to dismiss it.

I have climbed highest mountain
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
No I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For by U2

The poetry of the first verse reminds me that I have experienced much that my young self never saw coming including climbing to the tops of mountains. And indeed, I started climbing because of that deep yearning inside, a God whisper that I told me I needed to look.

When I first heard the song, I thought I would have it all figured out by the time I was 53 years old. Heck, I thought I would have it all figured out by 23. My young idealism and optimism would never have predicted that yearning can last a lifetime through the highs when I’ve wondered, “Is this all?” and the lows when I’ve groveled, “Please let there be more.”

In the moments when I experience the Oneness of all, the yearning quiets. And then the next moment I stub my toe or spill the milk and the desire to restore that unity returns with vigor. I’ve found much of my purpose in the busy and joyful days full with my two precious children and still want more. I get up early in order to find the stillness in which I can hear. I stop the car at the top of the hill to take a picture because the sky speaks to me. I write in order to keep pulling and finding the thread of awe, wonder and Divinity.

All this leaves me saying to my 18-year-old self, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” but I have figured out that I’m not meant to because the yearning itself has meaning. I have moments of enlightenment and feel peace. I hear echoes of Universal truth and I know it’s real. Now I know it’ll keep opening my eyes to look for Divine beauty all the way til the very end.

(He will lift you higher and higher)
(He’ll pick you up when you fall) I believe
(He’ll be your shelter from the storm)
I believe in a kingdom come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For by songwriters: Clayton Adam, Evans David, Mullen Laurence, Hewson Paul David

(featured photo is sunrise on Mt. Adams)

Are you a U2 fan or have you seen the movie Sing 2? Have you found what you are looking for?

Working Out My Change Muscle

Everybody wants to be enlightened but nobody wants to change.” – Andrew Cohen

Last Monday when my mom was over, my 6-year-old daughter asked her if she wanted to get the stem out of a strawberry. Thinking that Miss O meant for her to do it, my mom grabbed a paring knife and reached for the strawberry. Then Miss O explained that she was going to show her how to do it.

Grabbing a straw, she pushed it up from the bottom of the strawberry until it popped out of the top, taking the stem with it. A pretty neat hack she learned from a You Tube video.

This makes me think of the quote from Andrew Cohen at the top of this post, “Everybody wants to be enlightened but nobody wants to change.” For me, I take that to mean at this phase of life that change is more about attitude than substance. That is to say, an openness to change is more important than what exactly it is that I will change.

I can name a half a dozen reasons why I wouldn’t stem a strawberry with a straw without even trying it. But that leaves me in a position of only trying change when I deem it to be important. How can I believe I’ll have the spiritual wherewithal to recognize and accept the one change I may need for enlightenment if I’m out of practice of changing at all?

So this week for Miss O’s school lunches, I’ve been popping the stem out with a straw all week. A change I’m not committing to stick to because I usually have knives more readily available than straws. But I consider it a workout for my flexibility.

What does change look like for you in your stage of life? Have you ever tried to stem a strawberry with a straw?

Pain and Suffering

The greatest miracle is to be alive. We can put an end to our suffering just by realizing that our suffering is not worth suffering for!” – Thich Nhat Hanh

This weekend my son wanted to be like his sister and asked me “Can I have a pony?” Which is his shorthand for a ponytail, but before I’d even touched his hair to make a teeny-tiny ponytail, he said, “I’m going to say ‘Ow’”!

That little snippet of interaction so clearly illustrated the idea of pain versus suffering. I was fascinated by this idea when I first read about it in Temple Grandin’s book Animals in Translation. In the book, she discusses her work as an animal scientist from her unique perspective as an autistic person. Her fascinating work brings together so many different perspectives.

Dr. Grandin talks about all the tests and observations they’ve done to study whether animals experience pain. Because animals, especially prey animals, mask pain so that they don’t stand out in the flock, in the case of sheep, it’s sometimes hard to observe whether they are in pain.

But then she moves on to talk about suffering. Looking at humans who have chronic pain, she cites studies that show that chronic pain patients have a great deal of pre-frontal lobe activity which suggests something other than pain which is a lower-down brain function. In cases where a patient with intense pain had a leucotomy, which disconnected the frontal lobes and the rest of the brain, the patient still had pain but didn’t care about it.

Pain and suffering are two different things. Whereas I can address pain with a bandaid, ice or other treatment, taking on suffering for me is a spiritual practice. It is best treated by bringing light and breath to it and then having faith that it will not only move on through but also usually inform some enlightenment. As the great Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says in the quote for this post, “The greatest miracle is to be alive. We can put an end to our suffering just by realizing that our suffering is not worth suffering for!

The most prominent of this for me was my divorce a dozen years ago. After my marriage fell apart, it was so easy to stay stuck in the storyline of my husband’s infidelities that I mucked around for a couple of years without owning my part of the story and acknowledging that I wanted out. Until I found meditation and faith as a tool to empty those pockets of stale dead air, I suffered from lack of perspective and inability to listen to the larger chorus of the Universe inviting me out of the pain and onward.

When I started to make the pony for my son, he said, “Ow” and decided he didn’t really want it. I guess he know it wasn’t worth suffering for.  

(featured photo from Pexels)

Curiosity and Judgment

There is a wisdom of the head…and a wisdom of the heart.” – Charles Dickens

I came around the corner the other day to find my 6-year-old daughter lifting her 2-year-old brother and telling him, “If you want down, say ‘Down please.’“ Because there’s only about a 10 pound difference in weight between the two of them, it looked a little precarious.

The moment I gave birth to my second child, my oldest all of a sudden seemed so grown up. But every time I think of her as the “One who should know better” or my son as the “One who is too young to stick up for himself” I suffer from that lapse into judgment.

My meditation teacher once led a beautiful meditation about gratitude. In it she suggested that there are some things we can’t feel at the same time – like gratitude and greed. I think another pairing for me is judgment and curiosity. When I’m sitting in judgment, my curiosity is not available to me.

Of course my brain is just trying to make a fast assessment about what I need to do in a situation and so judgment serves the purpose of quick analysis. And my brain doesn’t only do this my kids but jumps to scan a homeless person for danger or to dismiss an apparently wealthy person as too busy to help.

Once I get past that quick assessment to check if anyone is in danger, I can remember to breathe in curiosity and compassion. Those two tools that almost always come up with a better and more creative response to whatever situation I find myself in.

 My compassion tells me my daughter is trying to figure out how to use her strength and knowledge to help her brother and that my son likes the attention most of the time. Once I figure out no one is getting hurt, I can sidestep my judgment and let them figure it out.

In my daughter’s quest to teach her brother some manners, she hasn’t quite thought to ask if he would like to be picked up before holding him hostage until he asks politely to get down. I’m curious how long it’s going to be until he figures that out.

Deep Enough

“When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt you head back and laugh at the sky.” – Buddha

My honorary aunt and uncle came to visit recently. They were my parent’s best friends since before I was born so every time I’m with them, it feels like old times. Talking with my 92-year-old “uncle,” he asked about my son going to daycare all day during the week. “He seems so little for that” he says. And I agreed and added, “True, he is little. But I need the help.”

My uncle looked off, squinted his eyes as if he was trying and failing to imagine choosing to be a single parent, taking care of children, working and balancing it all. Then he looked back and gently said, “I guess I could see that” in a tone that confirmed he couldn’t.

My uncle is a renowned Biblical scholar and retired professor of Theology. He once spent 17 years writing a book on the gospel of Matthew. But he has very little practical knowledge of the world. Years ago my uncle visited a college in Texas and was sitting next to a rancher at a meet-and-greet dinner. The rancher said he had 300 head of cattle and my uncle asked how many cows that was. The rancher famously replied, “I don’t know about where you come from but here in Texas, our cows only have one head each.”

In the moments when I struggle to find any sense of the spiritual plane in my hectic life, I sometimes envy people like my uncle who seem to have created calm and ordered lives in which to acquire deep knowledge of the Divine. I would love to be so deep in the study of life, Mystery and God. But life has called me to be broad instead.

When I sit to meditate in the morning, I usually find I already am participating in the mystery of life, just in a different way than the enlightenment I imagine I could reach if I had hours to go deep. In the quiet moments before I wake my two kids and go full on to get them out the door, I often get a glimpse of the Divine and Universal Flow find right here in my beautiful, messy life.

Sure, I have popcorn in my bra and am changing diapers in the back of my SUV between dropping my daughter and school and my son at daycare but I don’t need to be a scholar to know that God is right there, laughing at the gentle touch between us.

My uncle has only been able to been so deep because he has my aunt who has handled almost all the details of their life, their kids and grandkids. At the end of their visit, she said to me with a smile and a wink on the way out, “I don’t know how you do it all.” And I felt the presence of God in that spark of knowing that passed between us.

(photo from Pexels)

Calm and Still

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit” – Aristotle

Bees and I have come to an agreement. I’ll stay still and be calm and they won’t sting me. This agreement has taken a lot of years to broker since when I get stung, I puff up and stay that way, itchy and uncomfortable, for about five days. But I consider it part of my work to breathe deeply and not see them as an enemy.

The agreement went down the drain the other night when a yellow jacket stung my toddler. We were eating outside and they started swarming around. Since he’s just almost two he hasn’t had the chance to do his work and learn to be still and calm. In response to the sting, I wanted to kill them all.

It’s insidious – this ratcheting up of life’s lessons. I’ve come to accept pain as a great teacher, aches as a sign of growth, and to slow down and take life as it comes. But now I see I have so much more to learn about not taking umbrage on my kid’s behalf when pain comes.  This feels especially hard because I think it’s hard to hold other people when they are hurting and I can’t control the pace of how they move through it. In my discomfort, I want to problem solve and be done. It’s also hard because it’s my job to keep my kids safe so it feels like failure.

So all of this swirls as I consider my murderous rage for yellow jackets. My work on being calm and still is never done, I just have more to learn. But I take heart from a great quote I saw last week posted by TheEnglightenedMind622  “Don’t be afraid to start over again. This time, you’re not starting from scratch, you’re starting from experience.” I sit and try to be grateful for the chance to deepen the lesson and try not see neither bees nor pain as an enemy, not even on my son’s behalf.

Coming Unstuck

“Self-pity in its early stages is as snug as a feather mattress. Only when it hardens does it become uncomfortable.” – Maya Angelou

On Thursday morning my son cried all the way to daycare. He is such an affable little person that I was stunned that none of the usual tricks could distract him.  I pieced together from his two word sentences, Tay hoome (stay home) and EA come (his nanny come) he wanted to stay home and have the nanny come. When we reached his daycare and I was getting him out of the car, I started to stay, “When you cry like that, we…” and my daughter chimed in to finish the sentence, “suffer.”

I can’t say exactly what he’s thinking or how he’s grasped this but in the two weeks since his sister finished Kindergarten, he’s figured out that she’s staying home and the nanny is coming. I imagine he has some toddler sense of the unfairness that he still has to go to school three days a week. It’s unfair. Life is unfair. I think one of the easiest feelings to get stuck in. I think of this passage from The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo:

I know now that, over the years, my own cries that life is unfair have come from the inescapable pain of living, and these cries, while understandable, have always diverted me from feeling my way through the pain of my breakage into the re-formation of my life. Somehow, crying “Unfair” has always kept me stuck in what hurts.

The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo

At the time I first read it, I was stuck in unfairness. I was trying to undo the damage of the hurt done to me by an unfaithful ex-husband while everyone else seemed to be thriving. I read that passage and knew, really knew that the only thing keeping me in that place was me. That somehow I had taken the unfortunate chain of events that led up the implosion of life as I’d known it and made those my story, instead of the rest of me. There may have been a time that self-pity was fitting but then, as the Maya Angelou quote says, it had hardened around me and I was stuck.

I hadn’t intended to finish my sentence to my son with “suffer.” I was going to say, “When you cry like that, we don’t know what to do to make it better.” But suffer is pretty apt as well. When we get stuck in the unfairness of things, we suffer. No one around knows what to do to make it better. But all it takes to stop is to set the intention to find the beauty of where you are and do it again and again until one day you find you don’t need to. My son must have done some version of that because his teachers said he had a great day at school.

Looking and Finding

“People miss that all prayers are heard. But sometimes the answer is no.” – Pastor John Gray

The other day I was packing a lunch for my daughter and she was wandering around looking for her sunglasses. I wasn’t paying much attention to her search knowing that whether or not she found them, she wouldn’t likely wear them for more than a couple of minutes making the whole venture a little pointless. I asked a couple of mom questions like “where did you last see them?” and “have you packed everything else you need?” but mostly just listened to her narrative as she did a lot of talking and not much looking. Exasperated, she said in her most plaintive tone, “Why are you NOT helping me?”

It struck a chord in me. It is the tone that I hear inside my head when I want something specific and I think God isn’t helping me. Why are you NOT helping me? It’s funny the moments I have watching a scene with someone else that resonates with my own questions. It’s the lived experience coming full circle to help me find an answer to something I’ve pondered or struggled with.

In this case as I regarded my daughter’s question, I realized two things about when I whine to God. First of all, I’m probably asking or wanting something that God doesn’t think is important. I remember being about my daughter’s age when my beloved older brother would tease me by holding something in the air out of my reach. I’d jump and climb and claw and scratch to get up there but because he was six years older, he could always keep it from me. It worked as long as I continued to be fixated on whatever was held in the air when the reality was that all I really wanted was my brother’s attention. As in the case with me now, I struggle because I’m not getting something that I want and the struggle is the key part of the learning, not the getting.

The second thing that occurred to me in the “Why are you NOT helping me?” moment was the component of individual responsibility. My daughter’s quest to find her sunglasses wouldn’t even be a thing if she put them back where they belong. As it relates to me, I spin and get frustrated when I lose my center. The solution is always to quiet down and find that sacred still spot within myself. In the moment when I’m spinning out worrying about what next summer will be like because I won’t have the nanny I have now and imagining what that’ll feel like if I have to take the job as daily entertainment director on top of everything else…I just have to stop. Peace is only findable when I seek it, not the other things I’m trying to control.

Seeing myself in my daughter’s whine, I felt so much empathy for her struggle. I put down what I was doing, took a hold of her hand so she’d know I was with her and helped her find a hat which could work instead of the sunglasses. And miracle of miracles, we found the sunglasses on a bench in the garage as we went to leave the house.

Rethinking the Rote

“Everyone wants to get enlightened but nobody wants to change.” – Andrew Cohen

This morning I woke up in my bed for the first time in four days. As the temperatures rose during recent heat wave that enveloped the Pacific NW, I kept lowering our sleeping locales because we don’t have AC. First to the first floor and then as the we kept breaking the record high temperatures and the house barely even cooled at night, down into the basement where my son slept in a storage room and my daughter and I in the garage.

Each move meant small adjustments to the every day routine. Like not being able to empty the recycling or not turning on the tv because it would disturb where my daughter was sleeping. Not restocking the fridge in the evening or doing the dishes because it would disturb where my son was sleeping. Instead I sat out in the garden reading a book. So as we returned to our proper beds last night, I realized how much I do by rote. Small things that I do by habit like grabbing reusable shopping bags on the way to the car became visible when I had to rethink how I do them because the car was parked in the driveway and I used a different door.

Exposing the myriad of things that I do without thinking made me think about how deep my groove is and whether it is providing me efficiency or making me inflexible. It was harder to feel like I was getting things done over these days that were different, probably because I was having to make more decisions. But it was also a chance to make the unconscious conscious and make sure it serves me.

It feels good to be doing things as usual this morning. But I’m also taking away some intentional changes. I don’t need to turn on the tv or do the recycling every night and should instead spend more time sitting out in my garden. Disruption is an amazing teacher.