When We Look Closely

Who sees all beings in his own Self and his Self in all beings, loses all fear.” – The Isa Upanishad

The other day my son was nose to nose with our cat then turned to me and said, “I see me in kitty’s eyes.“

It reminded me of a story from the Talmud that I read in Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening:

A Rabbi asks his student, “How do you know the first moment of dawn has arrived? After a great silence, one pipes up, “When you can tell the difference between a sheep and a dog.” The Rabbi shakes his head no. Another offers, “When you can tell the difference between a fig tree and an olive tree.” Again the Rabbi shakes his head no. There are no other answers. The Rabbi circles their silence and walks between them, “You know the first moment of dawn has arrived when you look into the eyes of another human being and see yourself.”

The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo

I was talking with a friend the other day about Monsters, Inc. which is my son’s favorite movie these days. She asked the question, “Wouldn’t it be great if we as humans figured out how to harness laughter & love instead of screams & fear?”  

To me, it feels with almost 8 billion people on the planet like an almost overwhelming task for the dawn to break so that we can all see we are all different yet we share the same aches and pains of life. But then I breathe and remember, it happens one person at a time. It happens when I remember to be open and take the time to look into someone else’s eyes and gather the power of laughter and love.

And maybe when we exercise gentleness and closeness, it happens too between species like with my son and the cat. That is hopeful too.

Other People’s Writing: Dec 28

It is Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening that I turn to again and again when I need to think more deeply about life. Which is to say, I read it daily. 🙂 After spending half his life as a poet and an educator, it was his journey through cancer that uncovered his journey to write about the life of Spirit and celebrate life fully as it is now.

I discovered Mark Nepo when Oprah choose this book for her list of Ultimate Favorite Things. He has a way of finding the Divine inside and all around us that guides me to a place of comfort and joy, regardless of the circumstances of life.

Friendship

Nothing among human things has such power to keep our gaze fixed even more intensely upon God than friendship.” – Simone Weil

I have been blessed to have deep friends in my time on Earth. They have been an oasis when my life has turned a desert. They have been a cool river to plunge in when my heart has been on fire. when I was ill, one toweled my head when I couldn’t stand without bleeding. Another bowed at my door saying “I will be whatever you need as long as you need it.”

Still others have ensured my freedom and they missed me while I searched for bits of truth that only led me back to them. I have slept in the high lonely wind waiting for God’s word. And while it’s true — no one can live for you — singing from the peak isn’t quite the same as whispering in the center of a circle that has carried you ashore.

Honest friends are doorways to our souls, and loving friends are the grasses that soften the world. It is no mistake that the German root of the word friendship means “place of high safety.” This safety opens us to God. As Cicero said, “A friend is a second self.” And as Sant Martin said, “My friends are the beings through whom God loves me.”

There can be no greater or simpler ambition than to be a friend.

The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo

It would be an incomplete post about friendship if I didn’t end it sending gratitude to all the blogging friends I’ve met this year. My life is richer for meeting and learning from you all. Thank you!

(featured photo from Pexels)

Five Pieces of Writing That Inspired Me: #6 Beginning

Sleep is the best meditation.” – Buddha

I set out to find my top five pieces of writing that inspired me and in doing so, found so many more. I thought this one didn’t make the list but then I had a restless night last night and I thought so much about the renewal that comes each night for me when my load feels especially heavy. So, I’m calling this the 6th selection in my top five. <wink>

The Truth about Morning

There is a vastness that quiets the soul. But sometimes we are so squarely in the midst of life’s foreces that we can’t see what we’re a part of. – Mark Nepo

The truth about morning is that it is the small light of the beginning breaking through, again and again. It is a wisdom so large and clear, one which carries us through our lives so quietly and completely that we seldom see it.

Day after day, we are covered with the dust and grit of what we go through. It tends to weigh us down, and then we think and scheme and problem solve. Then we worry if it will all really work, and if it is the right thing to do. It all makes us so dark and cluttered.

But despite our stubbornness of concern, we tire and must turn what has happened over to the hammock of night. This is a good thing. For no matter how unfinished we seem, the letting go into sleep is nothing short of a quiet miracle.

This letting go into sleep is an innate, reflexive form of meditation, no different than a fly rubbing its face or a doe licking its fawn. Sooner or later, without discipline or devotion, despite our resolutions and mistakes, we each much sleep. We must surrender to the quieting of all intent and regret, so that the small light of the beginning can rise in us, again and again.

There is no escaping this profound simplicity: what happens covers us like dirt. It covers our hearts and minds, till, at the shore we call exhaustion, we slip into the waters of sleep in a daily sort of baptism, so we can begin again.

So whenever you feel urgent or overwhelmed, whenever you feel pressed to figure things out or to rethink the unthinkable…rest…so that the endless beginning – which some call the voice of God – might break through what has happened. And you will wake feeling like dawn.

The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo

Five Pieces of Writing that Inspired Me: #4 Leaving a Mark

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” – Dalai Lama

This meditation from Mark Nepo made me think about how we touch the people we are closest to all the time. Even if not physically, our presence and especially our words shape everyone around us. Whenever I think of how we rub off on each other with every encounter, this meditation is what I’ve come to see in my head.

The Work of Love

“Love courses through everything.” – Fakhruddin Iraqi

I recently learned that the first form of pencil was a ball of lead. Having discovered the lead, if scratched, would leave markings, people then wrestled with chunks of the stuff in an attempt to write. Through the work of many, the chunks were eventually shaped into a useable form that could fit the hand. The discovery became a tool.

I am humbled to confess after a lifetime of relationship that love is no different. Be it a lover or a friend or a family member, the discovery of closeness appears in our life like a ball of lead – something that if wrestled with, will leave markings by which we can understand each other.

But this is only the beginning. The work of love is to shape the stuff of relationship into a tool that fits our hands. With each hardship faced, with each illusion confronted, with each trespass looked at and owned, another piece of the chunk is whittled and love begins to become a sacred tool.

When truth is held in compassionate hands, the sharpness of love becomes clear and not hurtful.

The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo

Five Pieces of Writing that Inspired Me: #1 Faith

When you surrender to the wind, you can ride it.” – Toni Morrison

My toddler has become the master of two word sentences. “Mama lap” is one of his most frequent and it works to make me sit down, pull him onto my lap and read him a book.

I’ve been thinking a lot about words lately. How we string them together and hope they convey what we want and need and maybe if we are lucky, even reach another person where they live. So I’ve gone back through my most beloved meditations and books and picked out five of the most inspirational things I’ve read that have pulled me up, changed my perspective and touched my heart.

Learning How to Float

When we stop stuggling,
we float.

When first learning how to swim, I didn’t trust the deep. No matter how many assuring voices I heard from shore, I strained and flapped to keep my chin above the surface. It exhausted me, and only when exhausted did I relax enough to immerse myself to the point that I could feel the cradle of the deep keep me afloat.

I’ve come to understand that this is the struggle we all replay between doubt and faith. When thrust into any situation over our head, our reflex is to fight with all our might the terrible feeling that we are sinking. Yet the more we resist, the more we feel our own weight and wear ourselves out.

At times like this, I remember learning to float. Mysteriously, it required letting almost all of me rest below the surface before the deep would hold me up. It seems to me, almost forty years later, that the practice of finding our faith is very much like that – we need to rest enough of ourselves below the surface of things until we find ourselves upheld.

This is very hard to do. But the essence of trust is believing you will be held up if you let go. And though we can practice relaxing our fear and meeting the deep, there is no real way to prepare for letting go other than to just let go.

Once immersed, once below the surface, it is not by chance that things slow down, go clear, feel weightless. Perhaps faith is nothing more than taking the risk to rest below the surface.

The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo

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.

Bottomless Questions

“Keep your feet on the ground and your thoughts at lofty heights.” – Peace Pilgrim

When I awaken every morning, I tiptoe past both the kids closed bedroom doors and walk downstairs with the cat winding her way around my ankles. After I feed her and do a little stretching or yoga, I meditate. I have three or four books that I keep next to my meditation cushion and I read these short meditations as I sip my tea. The thing I like best about this practice is that when I flip to the page for April 20th in the Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo for instance, what is written there is usually something different that whatever is on the top of my mind for the day. It takes me out of my life for a moment to ponder a bigger or deeper theme instead of the logistics of my day.

So today when I opened another of my books, A Year of Daily Joy by Jennifer Louden, I loved that what she proposed, “Try asking bottomless questions – the kind that tantalize and stretch you.” Her examples were “How can I love more?” and “What do I want to create today?”

I sat with this idea for a while, watching the sun start to play on the house across from me, the birds flitting in and out of my plum tree, the feeling of observation starting to warm up my engagement with life and came up with this question “How can I bring curiosity into what I see and do today?”

The feeling of that question matches with my mood when I awaken. Light and open — and curious. My morning routine helps me set the tone for the day so that even long after what I read gets forgotten in the bustle of the day, I am still sustained by the broader horizon that came with my morning moments. I love the idea of posing that bottomless question to intentionally lengthen that note throughout the busy-ness of the day.

Affirming Ourselves

“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” – Buddha

I bundle my son into the car and off to preschool and when I return and sit down to work, I find that he’s removed the mouse from my laptop – the small pencil-eraser style mouse that sits between my G and H keys that is my favorite way to navigate. I look all over the floor for it, I search my office for my replacements but I’ve hidden them too well so that my kids won’t get them and now I can’t find them. Young kids are such a hindrance to getting things done. I was going to say “can be” but pretty much at this age, it’s not that they can but they are.

There is the big picture view that I am working in order to support my precious children so perhaps I should just take a deep breath, picture them and all aggravation goes away. And that is true, but it is also true that I really like to get things done. For my own sense of self and esteem.

I read a story in Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening about Dr. Elkhanan Elkes about how she survived the Holocaust. She always kept two things with her: a small crust of bread and a broken piece of comb. The bread was for when she met someone who needed it more than she did and the comb was to comb her hair twice daily as it affirmed her person.

Applying her wisdom to parenting — the crust of bread is easy. I don’t know of any parent of small children that doesn’t keep a little snack just in case with them. In pre-Covid times, we even shared these with other people’s kids that needed it. But the daily affirmation of myself and my humanity is a harder. Dr. Elkes story tells me it is something we all need for survival and it’s a daily practice. I am a person and not just a role that I perform at home and work. For me that affirmation comes from a meaningful communication with another adult at least once a day — writing a card to a friend, writing or commenting on a post, or checking-in with someone who’s going through something big.

So I borrow the pencil-eraser mouse from another computer, write this post and find that my son really helped with my affirmation after all – he gave me something to write about. That’s one thing done for the day!!   

The Risks You Have to Take

A friend said to me the other day, “I don’t know how you do it.” In this case, “it” was putting my two young kids to bed every night by myself. Of all the tricky parts that come with being a single parent, kids bedtime is definitely high on the list. The answer is that I’ve found a secret power that helps in the tough moments.

Of course, I’m not alone in discovering this – there are many stories about this secret. In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indiana is searching for the Holy Grail so that he can heal his father who has been wounded. He’s followed the clues and reaches a chasm that seems uncrossable. He’s scared because of the urgency of his need but he trusts that there is a way across and as he steps into that void, a stone bridge reveals itself. Or Joseph Campbell’s work on the journey of the hero that lays out how the pattern unfolds. The hero spends a great deal of time trying to every way to get to his calling without being vulnerable and then finally, with nothing left to lose, plucks up his courage, steps into vulnerability and only then is able to overcome all the obstacles. Or an interview that I recently heard with Melinda French Gates on Brene Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast, she describes how at one point in her career she didn’t like who she was becoming in the early culture of Microsoft that was very dog-eat-dog and before she quit, she decided to just try being herself and as a result, she found her success. Her comment was “no one talks about how much courage it takes.”

I believe we all reach that point where there is something we are called to do and it doesn’t make any sense. It’s a risk. I, for one, spent a lot of time in that “act two” that Joseph Campbell describes trying to find a way to having a family that didn’t require the vulnerability I felt when I voiced “I’m going to choose to do this on my own.” Which is why I had my kids when I was age 46 and 50. But I can affirm that there is a force that greets us on the other side of taking the risks we are called to take. It feels like less friction because our bodies, minds and souls know they are just where they are supposed to be. It feels like faith, joy and delight all bundled together.

There is an opposite force when we are walking a path not our own. I remember this well from the years I spent married, not wanting kids, not wanting to be there and yet not brave enough to own that truth. It was like packing my soul in bubble wrap and asking it not to participate. My favorite poet and author, Mark Nepo describes what happens when we don’t take the risks we are called to, “Despite the seeming rewards of compliance, our souls grow weary by engaging in activities that are inherently against their nature.”

I don’t tell this to my friend when she makes the comment because she doesn’t need the secret right now. She has a great husband and they parent beautifully together. But when she or anyone else in my life meets the next challenge that asks them to be vulnerable in order to walk their path, I will be right next to their side telling them, “Go ahead. There is help once you step onto that path. I promise! But you have to step first.”