Jean Marie Gunner

Jean Marie Gunner
We are all basically good.

Sunday, July 29, 2012


What some may consider a bag caught in the tree

Instead, I see a magical dance

A bag swaying perfectly to the Krishna Das chant playing

Soothing my tattered psyche today

Peaceful form through the movement of a torn white plastic bag

I am no longer standing in my kitchen

I am the music, the chant, the movement and that happily stuck bag

Fifty feet high off the ground

Caught in the embrace of a branch of my neighbor's hundred year oak

Ready to be relocated/released at any moment

Okay to be stuck

Okay to fly away

This Is Reality

“This is reality, whether you like it or not.  All those frivolities of summer, the light and shadow, the living mask of green that trembled over everything, they were lies, and this is what was underneath.  This is the truth. It was as if we were being punished for loving the loveliness of summer."

Today after an early morning bike ride, chores, gardening, cleaning, I laid back on the grass with my feet splayed out before me on my front lawn, sweaty, smelling like earth and body and salt.  I felt each blade of grass prickle the back of my neck, tickling my arms and my legs.  I looked upon the earthly realm of flowers in my front bed, cosmos yet to bloom, with thoughts of pastel-painted columbine, and popcorn-shaped, multi-colored snap dragons strikingly radiant, and dianthus’ feminine feathery pink touch.  Oh, and the wind and the summer air caressing my skin.  The breeze can be seen as it moves through the rich plush burgundy velour of the Japanese maple; its leaves vacillating in color between purple and black and red, soft and luxurious and velvety.  The wind ever so slightly moves the tiny hairs on my arms and softly touches my face and cheeks and lips. 

The neighbor girls are sitting and reading their girl tales of gentle adventure, adventure with purpose, aware of the world around them.  That’s how we females approach life, knowing it can be taken in a moment.  Our bodies, our insides carry this awareness, the absolute knowing that we exist and are alive in this one moment and could be gone in the next. Our children are awake with this breath and their next exhale may be their last.

The girls ask me as naturally as they sit there and breathe, “Miss Jean, what are these chair for?” The ones I left baking on the hot asphalt of our driveway under a relentless summer sum.  And I respond, “Why for sitting of course.”  Without hesitation, doubt or delay, sensing that no permission was necessary to take a natural course of action, they sit down on these very chairs and read.  This is the precious world I live in.

I ask humbly for teachers.  I ask for my senses to be opened, for my heart to be softened.  As I lay here on the ground, I am filled with sensory experiences and a sense of profound gratitude for these simple moments in life.  The wonder of life all about me, flowers, trees, birds, clouds, sky, children, bees, plants, and my body willing to lay here and take it all in if only for a few moments. 

This is reality.

(Quote by Willa Cather from My Antonia)

Saturday, July 28, 2012


As I drive home down this country road

I notice flickering thoughts in my mind

And flickering lights on the side of the road

"Fireflies, already," I think


Just like the thoughts flitting in and out of my mind

Confusion setting in, lighting up for me to see

My repeats of pushing and pulling away from the life I say I want

An awareness of a habit

Does not mean breaking the habit

That comes later

There is a gap between noticing and changing

It takes an aspiration and some time

To bring about a shift that we can really feel

That we know is definably different

And it takes a gentleness

To be confident with exactly what is right now

With exactly who we are right now

Fireflies, reminders, illuminating the night and my mind

Then going out

Just like a noticed habit

The Basic Goodness of Mustangs

Our world is full of magic.  I am referring to the most ordinary, commonplace daily magic of answers being delivered just when we need them.  These answers come in many forms.  We may have a friend on our mind after a disagreement, and for some reason we aren’t even consciously aware of we turn our heads upward and our eyes lock on our friend’s favorite bird flying overhead.  Ordinary magic.

My eyes often seem to catch the flight of great blue herons, and I am moved in ways that cannot even begin to be described in words.  This bird is mythical in nature yet is a very real and tangible part of our world.  The great blue heron for me signifies an ancient nature that dwells within all of us and it flies with such grace and elegance.  It transports me to open space outside of time. 

Animals share our world with us and yet are by some human beings treated as less than sentient beings.  They may be abused or used by corporations to test drugs or other consumer products.  This is fundamentally dangerous.  It demonstrates an intrinsic lack of understanding of the essence of all life and the interconnectedness of every being.

Many years ago when I was in my early 20s I was living for the first time away from home in Chicago.  I was not overly confident at that time and really was fearful but I had attained a certain comfort level within myself to strike out on my own to attend graduate school in a new city.  I was certainly courageous and daring even if I was frightened to be alone and on my own.  I found a new freedom though at that time in the world and in my being in the world.  I realized what I had always known -- that I liked to be alone.  I felt relaxed and in my element when I was walking the city blocks by myself or biking the streets of Chicago to and from work.

I attended outdoor concerts and neighborhood festivals by myself.  I sat in coffee houses writing in my journal and reading books and went to the independently-owned movie houses to see foreign and independent films.  I really loved Chicago for so many reasons.  I came of age there, I came to know myself intimately, my fears, my loves, my genuine heart of sadness all floated up to the surface.  Despite finding myself, opening myself to myself and the world and learning to trust my instincts, I wanted to meet someone special, to experience the beauty and tragedy and joy of living with someone who was like minded and kind and open.  I made many friends, some still friends to this day.  I knew that friends and girlfriends specifically were gems that I needed to stay grounded and awake in this world.

My search for that one special person to get me led me into one relationship and another and another, a real revolving door of lovers and boyfriends.  My habitual pattern was to find someone else before ending the previous relationship so I wouldn’t have that sense of being alone.  It is easy to look back and play connect the dots, seeing clearly how each relationship led to the next and the next stage of my life and learning.  Also looking back I see that it wasn’t all about me and never was.  If I had realized that sooner I could have saved myself a lot of heartbreak, emotional turmoil, depression and angst. 

In the middle of my stay in Chicago, I knew that the revolving door and the continual need to fill up some bottomless vessel in my heart was depleting me, robbing me of my vital force and energy to be alive for myself and to help others.  I always had a sense that caring for others would bring me greater joy and serenity than focusing on myself and my little dramatic world.

My first journey alone away from Chicago was to Arizona, to the land of barren scrub and desert heat.  I went to see the Painted Desert, to walk through ancient Indian ruins, to feel and experience the red rocks of Sedona, to meander through Jerome, an abandoned, dusty ole desert mining town.  I flew into Phoenix and spent a night in a little motel alternately calling my former boyfriend and a lover, wanting them to take away the ache, the loneliness, the fearfulness. I can still see myself lying on the bed hanging up the phone from the last call and crying my eyes out.  Crying because of my uncertainty, my aching sadness, all the while seeing that the answers were within my reach, within me all the time.

I spend that week hiking the red rock canyon, riding horses, eating Huevos Rancheros for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I loved that journey and how it broke me open a little more despite my grasping to these boyfriends with expectations that they could make all my sadness disappear.  The next year I returned to the southwest this time New Mexico to join up with a group of people working in the world of recovery.  The weekend program was called Path of Maximum Service.  I knew even then that to be of service to others, to be happy myself and at peace, I had to learn to help others. 

My visit to the Navajo and Hopi lands made a lifelong lasting impression on me.  The day before I was expected to meet up with my group, I visited the Four Corners (Colorado, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico) and toured with a group to see the ancient pictographs on the monolithic red stones.  A young handsome Navajo man asked if I would be camping that night and if he could join my campfire.  I just knew I had to say no.  I struck out for the open desert road and as the day turned from dusk to night, a torrential rain began causing many inches of water to stand on this long dark stretch of desert highway.  Flash floods in the desert are not unusual and I arrived in a small town, ordered my usual, Huevos Rancheros, and my waitress suggested that I take the last room in town.  I needed little convincing.  I fell asleep that night very late and had to get up way before sunrise to make it from where I was in Utah to Santa Fe by mid-morning. 

With my belly still full from the night before dinner, I hit the road and drove into the early morning.  The stretch of desert highway can be so hypnotic, I feel like I become a part of the landscape rather than as observer.  I am no longer destination driven but awake and relaxed in the moment.  As the sun began to make its ascent, a herd of feral horses, Mustangs, came into view.  They were running alongside the road as a drove.  I just couldn’t believe my eyes, the power, the majesty, the natural elegance and dignity of these beings.  I knew then and have never doubted since that animals are sentient beings that feel and know.  The wild herds of horses in New Mexico are Mustangs.  I can still vividly see in my mind’s eye their coloring, and their rippling muscles beneath their skin.  They were large and muscular strong runners with an air of tremendous confidence.

How often do we wish for things to be a certain way, another way than what is.  Many of us struggle with this and there are very often particular areas with which we really struggle.  As we edge ourselves in a certain direction in our mind with someone or something, we begin to attach the idea of it.  The idea is not solid but somehow we feel that without it we may perish. 

The truth is that grasping and clinging will never bring happiness, only more suffering.  Hoping is hopeless and indicates an attachment to a mentality of never having enough, that we are never enough.  With this mindset and view, we will be continually disappointed.  “We are just attached to being attached.”

What is there when we let go…space.  Space by definition is empty and in our society we may think of emptiness as bad, negative, lonely.  Yet, space or emptiness is where freedom lies.  We can take this freedom which is devoid of our concepts and thoughts and labels and assumptions, and see that it offers us a palette, a clean open free palette to view the world.  In this place we can touch compassion and experience what is known as basic goodness, the fundamental good that our world is.  When we strip away the assumptions, what do we have -- free, open, clear, relaxed mind.  And we can breathe here.  We can run free like the southwestern Mustangs I encountered all these years ago. 

The basic core of all life and all being is goodness, shining, lovely effortless space to be, who we are, who we have always been.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Vulnerability and Surrender -- How Children Remind Us to Be in the Moment

Children are the natural teachers of basic goodness. My son was hospitalized in 1999 as a 20 month old for a fractured skull. His parents were traumatized, his mother’s confidence shattered, and he was shaken up as well. But after a night in the hospital, he was back up on his feet in the playroom of Buffalo Children’s Hospital playing air hockey and bounding between one toy or game and another with the children who were ambulatory.

I remember a room full of children and their bandages wrapped around their head traumas and post-surgical procedures due to injury or cancer. These children were living in the moment, aware of each other, aware of themselves with the natural proclivity to play and participate in one another’s universe, to beckon us, to remind us, to shake us out of our self-induced comas. These sick and hurting children were teaching us to be alive and to stay awake. These children felt the fresh touch of vulnerability, their mortality and were naturally surrendering to the moment to simply be and play with their friends, fellow inpatients with different prognoses and challenges.

Becoming vulnerable is first admitting vulnerability exists. Fear and fearlessness walk hand in hand. Vulnerability is about giving up some of yourself to participate with everyone else. Surrender is the experience. Becoming vulnerable is becoming open, allowing yourself to be known by yourself and others. It is inviting in a broken heart. Loving is the tender side of being alive, of becoming fully human.

To love is to make one’s self vulnerable.  Experiencing our stuff, the habitual patterns we all have, allows the vulnerability to surface. The true heart of sadness is a raw inner one, it is a great heart of sadness, tender to all of life surrounding it at all moments yet still able to live and breathe and share and exalt in the vibrant and poignant moments of joy and pain, however big or small.

The open wounds we carry never completely heal, yet they somehow transform us if we allow the suffering to teach us to surrender to what is. We don’t uproot our old habits but in the light of basic goodness, basking in the authentic quality of goodness, we outshine these worn out habitual ways of carrying on our lives.

Basic goodness is in plain sight at all times. We may go from a lapse in seeing our true human goodness; we may experience a break in being loving or kind. Yet with fearlessness, gentleness and wakefulness we can on the spot touch basic goodness. It is within us, it marks each moment, each breath, each cloud passing in the sky on a hot summer day, a soft spring shower, the first bird singing sweetly after a long winter, the dew drops on the petals of summer flowers, the vast, wide open sky, a child’s laughter, the emergence of a baby from our womb, the death of a friend in pain, the sighs of lovemaking.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


To be called Sofia
Is to look for the stars beyond the stars
To gaze upward—to an outward reality
Towards the vastness, the blackness, the forever coldness
And in deep space, find the tranquility to be

To be called Sofia
Is to know that without seeing the distant stars
Trust that they are there…
To touch their hidden, faraway brilliance one day

To be called Sofia
Is to recognize the Mother of All
By holding sanity in one hand
And madness in the other
Then to present to the world a Pathway of Reconciliation

To be called Sofia
Is to step outside the static drone of our motion
To welcome the Ec-static as the birth of a new reality

To be called Sofia
Is to gaze upward to the forever blackness
And to see an infinite multitude of white lights
Piercing tiny holes in cold, dark space

To be called Sofia
Is to know that light permeates even the coldest darkness
As the Mother of All Knowing holds her quiet, resting child to her breast

 (Written May 19, 2002)


Watching him run

Feeling my heart skip a beat

The loving—the intense loving feeling

It’s better than falling in love

My children are teaching me to be and stay in the moment

About just being quiet

My self that can love so intensely

My self that aches to explore my world

With the innocence of a child

My being that longs once more to soar as a bird, even without wings—all soul

Kailen runs down the grassy know to where his papa digs a hole

A hole to plant a tree for his baby brother

My older boy reaches out to learn

Begs to be taught

I falter sometimes as mother, as parent, as teacher

I become entangled in my must do’s, should do’s, ought to’s

Even my form of discipline

Comes from a place of shaming….my hidden shame and pain

As I see Kailen running with his little legs that can hardly carry him

Quickly enough to his next destination, discovery, recreation

I recollect my own childhood curiosity

I find myself unwittingly, albeit, happily, joyously in the moment

The now

The present

Of being not doing

Of hereness not past or future got to do’s

Not hectic, tight scheduling

Nor nostalgia

His running has returned me to right here

In our kitchen –

Gazing out the window

My little child

Joins his spirit

Quietly, intently


He questions his papa

Learning and being

The dishes can wait

This moment, however, cannot

It is a gift of love that must be!

It demands my attention

Brought to me by my

Child who lives only for now

And I must be present to receive his gift

(Written July 2001)

Redemption in a Skinned Knee

“Now there’s a loss that can never by replaced,

A destination that can never be reached,

A light you’ll never find in another’s face,

A sea whose distance cannot be breached

Well Jesus kissed his mother’s hands

Whispered, “Mother, still your tears,

For remember the soul of the universe

Willed a world and it appeared.”

(“Jesus Was an Only Son” by Bruce Springsteen, Devils and Dust Album)

“Just because you are no longer here, doesn’t mean that you are not with me.  Just because I can no longer see you, look into your eyes, reach out and touch your cheek or hear the lovely lilt of your voice, doesn’t mean that you no longer continue to reside in my thoughts.  You always have a place within my heart, for as long as I am.”

For sure, we all get caught up sometimes in the tumult of emotions and the play of our internal dramas.  I know myself I experienced weeks of intense emotion, reacting too quickly, forgetting to pay attention and pause for a deep breath, or even any breath at all, forgetting to collect myself and correct my emotional course.  Good and bad, joy and sadness, accomplishment and disappointment marked these last days for me.  I just pop like a firecracker at times, particularly with my adolescent teenage boys, like I cannot believe that the house is trashed, their clothes strewn all over, and dishes unwashed.  I just wonder when it will be easier, when someone will be with me to take some of the strain away.  Then I realize that may or may not ever happen.  All that there is, is what is at the moment, just as last night when I went to my bed, very much alone, and didn’t wish or dream about something being different.  I said my nighttime prayer, my reality mantra – “I am in my bed, I am alone, I am okay.”  Sleep arrived quickly, and I slept well that night.  

One minute I would feel some happiness like when The Buffalo News published my essay I had submitted.   The next moment, I would feel completely broken and sad about our humanity like this damn pointless shooting at the movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado.  I feel frustrated and fatigued by my work and doubt about the job I am doing as a mom.  Then there's this perpetual disappointment in love; I recently had to say goodbye to someone and my attachment to a reality or outcome that would never be. 

And yet, through all of this sadness that continues to break my heart, I get the sense, however subtle and hard to pin down, that my heart actually is opening up more to others, to my world, to our world and it feels compassion for my fellow human beings. All of these feelings and concepts just seem to slip through my fingers like a fine dust of sand.  They arrive, then are gone.
Who isn’t afraid when life just gets too hard with our storylines and habitual patterns tucked in there next to the pearl of love and natural goodness?   The jewel surrounded by the watery, fluid muck of our lives and fears.  It is so dirty and stifling in there, in our hearts that break over and over and over again.

There is a great big hole; it is called the heart…gaping, open, and so tremendously alive.  It is alive because we are alive, still breathing, heart-beating, fearful, loving human beings.

And I know I just feel so much sadness right now deep to my core.  Sadness and wakefulness are constant companions residing side by side in my heart.  It is as if there is an imperative to follow why I came to this earth to begin with; not only finding the purpose, but excavating through all the muck and mire and following that purpose all the way to its end, to my end.

The New Yorker is releasing its latest edition and in it is a lengthy essay on Bruce Springsteen,  singer, songwriter, poet, with whom I have identified over half my life.  He is so affecting and impactful on my generation, and generations before and after, impacting literally millions and millions. All I know is that his songs, his words, his poetry defined me as a young woman and still hit the mark of my heart.  As a young woman so afraid yet completely trusting in love and connection of my raw inner being, I felt his words enter me and define my very young existence.  They never really let me go.  They still reside within the inner recesses of my humanity.  I knew even then that I had an embattled soul, a good soul that wanted to make a difference in this world.  The world I remember as a young person was a city in decline, steel industry shutting down all around us as I made my way through high school and college and first fell in love. 

His songs defined my first love and have never left me alone.  From that ride to my first Springsteen concert in my boyfriend’s Oldsmobile Firenza to The Aud to see Bruce sing, play and dance for over three hours in September 1984, my second year at Canisius College.  I can still see the two of us going through the drive--thru at Burger King in South Buffalo on South Park Avenue before the concert.  We arrived in our seats and danced and sang till we were soaked in sweat.  Nothing matter more than feeling that music, feeling our youth, feeling our love and feeling one another. 

Why relive all of this?  The reason is because there is no one like Bruce who gives all he has, takes himself to the edge, the edge of sanity, the edge of madness, the edge of love, the edge of his heart and hands it all back to us.  To those of us who really care, who are willing to break our own hearts open next to his brokenness and feel the collective love and beat of his verse and rhythm.  It means something to all of us who click with him; he is the bard of our generation.

I read the words of The New Yorker as a spiritual experience.  I identify with his depression as I identify with my own.  I feel the sadness, the brokenness, the redemption.  There is salvation in the madness; there is reconciliation in the rebellion.  There is no other way but forward and through our lives.

As the connection with another human being resonates and resounds through my own mortal existence, I acknowledge without shame how many times I keep the contact going because I really crave the human is out of loneliness, the desire to stay in contact and close communion with another, the desire to know another, to know myself.

As one chapter prepares to close, no matter how right it feels or how much we know it needs closing, it still stings.   A place in my driveway is empty; a place in my heart is empty. Just so empty and the truth is that no one gets it exactly how we feel but we have all felt it, the great big dry hole of emptiness in the center of our body.   The very act of emptying makes room, room in our hearts to be filled again, and possibly heartbroken once more. Just like fire clears away the scrub and underbrush and makes room for new growth in the forest, heartbreaks do the same; they make room for more love, for reaching into our hearts and handing them over to another.   There is a time for letting go and moving into the emptiness, and letting that emptiness come right back in.

Trying to ignore a broken heart is like trying to ignore the sting of a skinned knee.  It takes time to heal and little by little every day it begins to feel better.  But if you touch it too soon, it really smarts, a reminder to wait and give it some time to heal.  This is how Bruce and his music touch me, it is the balm on a stinging, living wound, perhaps the wounds and words of The Boss heal my own aching heart and for that I give thanks.

"Eight years in it feels like you're gonna die
But you get used to anything
Sooner or later it just becomes your life."

("Straight Time" by Bruce Springsteen from The Ghost of Tom Joad album)

Monday, July 23, 2012



In the morning

Eyes open

How does my body feel?

Where is my mind?

My senses awaken

Do they smell, taste, feel, see and hear

All the life that is around me

In the vastness of space as I come alive

On my tiny dot on earth

Sometimes a great big event

Jolts me awake

Like a death, a birth, a sickness

At times it is more subtle

Other times sublime

Wakefulness comes when I relax

When I remember to breathe

And feel and participate in all the life around me

Emptiness brings the fullness

Once I empty out the contents cluttering my mind

Thoughts drift away

My body relaxes and my achiness subsides

It seems like a miracle has taken place

A common every day miracle

Only through the emptying

Can the richness

The utter fullness of my world

Enter me and fill me up

Inspire me and hold my attention

I smell life

The inspiration is always happening

There’s a stream trickling on day after day

An apple tree ripening from seed to sapling to budding tree to fruitful harvest

Suddenly this grasshopper alights on my hand as I sit in this garden

Resting easily

Trusting the peace

The undisturbed body of being

(poem written August 9, 2011)


The ponging of the bumblebee

Round and plump

From flower to flower

Aidan notices and reminds me to see

Opening me

Shaking me awake

Moment by moment

We do this for one another

It looks like a circus act

So elegant and able bodied

This bumblebee gracefully launches itself from the each flower to the next

We happen to be here in this moment

As witnesses to earth’s direct brilliance

(poem written August 11, 2011)

Family Camp -- A Reflection

I feel a need on this sultry summer late July morning with the air so close and my skin sticky to write about last August’s family camp experience with my boys.  The journey was one that really brought me into my physical body and gave me great confidence and courage in my path.  Almost a year later I am in a much different place in my mind, yet my body is right where it always has been.

I have been feeling this course correction experience and experiencing time in a very different way.  Just yesterday I was thinking of this very notion of course correction and of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and throughout out the day at least three times these very notions appeared along my path.  Now we are preparing once more to embark again on a family trip, just mom and her boys heading again to Vermont and family camp.  We have an idea of what to expect but good sense tells us not to have any expectations at all, it is a new year, new people, new mindsets and hearts.  We are all the same but completely rearranged.  One thing for certain, summer really just brings me into my body, its feelings, its smells, it sensory expressions. 

(August 5, 2011) 
I sit here resting my bottom on the earth looking out over the mountain range of the Green Mountains of Vermont.  It is serene and my only company is the tiny gnats flying around my head and the voice of the insects hidden in the nearby trees and brush.  I am planted for a little while in this meadow writing about my travels with my adolescent and teenage boys to a family camp in northeastern Vermont where we are destined to arrive tomorrow. 

My boys and I began our journey yesterday staying in Albany on Thursday evening and tonight we are staying at the quite eccentric Wilburton Inn overlooking Vermont’s Equinox Mountain.

We visited my friend’s daughter and the organic farm and bakery in which she works; we tasted plump messy juicy pear tomatoes and ate fresh-out-of-the-oven raspberry popovers.  We found a watering hole to swim in, a small creek with rushing cold stream.  The stone and rocks were quite hazardous, slippery when traversing them and the water on this humid August day was refreshingly cool.  It looked black from the rock beneath like a frothy Irish Guinness.  I abandoned my usual more cautious and prudent modus operandi and threw my body into the unchecked cold mountain stream entering the water with a loud gasping sign, grateful for the cooling effect of the water on my boiling skin. 

I am now sitting here with these insects at sunset with a glad and a grateful heart. I am somewhat tentative to go to camp out for eight nights in a place I have never been with two hundred strangers; a bit anxious yet feeling bold and daring about embarking on this adventure in the first place.  We are headed to the Northeastern Kingdom of Vermont to a family camp at KarmĂȘ Chöling, a Shambhala Mediation Retreat Center.  I am interested in continuing to pursue my training in Shambhala, a lineage that teaches about how to be awake in our world, awake to basic goodness, both our own and the world’s.  It is a path of training in mindful awareness through meditation and takes meditation a step further from the individual to societal, exploring how mindfulness can be beneficial for our immediate worlds, our families and communities. 

I have been thinking about my body as my teacher.  How do our relationships with ourselves, loving ourselves and loving others help benefit society?  How can we love in a way that is beneficial and less self-focused and self-serving?  Love rests in the body; our first sensations are physical as we descend out from our mother’s through the birth canal, touching and being touched by our mothers for the first time, our first breath of air, nuzzling into our mother’s breast.  The beginnings of our worldly experience are all physical, just as love is experienced in the body.

Our body is the vessel for all our life experiences.  Even thoughts take place in the body, in our brains and send out signals throughout our brainstem, along our spinal column, out to our limbs.  It is so precise and available, the thinking part.  Then there is the mind’s creation of a storyline as related to our emotions and past experiences.  The knowledge and awareness of our bodies is precise and direct; it occurs to me that we never really forget anything that happened to us or any of our encounters or experiences however peripheral.  Our brains are so clever and keen and catalogue it all away in our minds, the great big mainframe of our bodies.  We cannot possibly consciously remember it all, but there is cellular, subatomic memory.  Perhaps that is why we are so adept at building storylines, protecting ourselves from some hurt or pain we suffered in the past.  Being aware that we build explanations is very helpful, at least we know we are doing this as some sort of protection or coping.  Realizing that storylines may actually not always serve us may lead to greater understanding.

In a recent article I had read the author explains rather insightfully and convincingly that directing all our energy at trying to explain away the hurt or immediate feelings we are experiencing actually serves to rob us of the vast amounts of information and moments of consciousness surrounding the space about us.  Actually listening to the sounds and pauses, the spaces in between all the information bytes so to speak, the sounds and messages of silence provide tremendous possibility for awakenment.  This view of pausing, slowing the mind, stopping for a moment the mind’s storyline, represents a paradigm shift, a more whole way of being awake and aware in the world.  It first takes noticing, becoming aware, pausing, then reminding ourselves over and over to pause.  It doesn’t happen naturally for adults since we are all so conditioned to explain what we are feeling.

Last week I spent a Saturday afternoon with a new friend.  It was a special few hours; I just wanted to listen to him, to take him in, to open my heart and welcome in his whole being, physically and spiritually and emotionally and even cosmically.  I didn’t want to open my mouth, words felt too small, too constricting, and too ambiguous.  If I had something to say, I felt I needed to say it by listening.  As he talked I listened and my eyes met his straight on.  We walked over to taste something from his garden, our shoulders brushing each other’s, I could smell him so close to me.  In that moment, for me, there were only the two of us in our world.  And then it was over, those moments that had just passed stood still, or stood outside of time somehow, soon to become part of the near past joining the river of all events that have already happened.  I wasn’t thinking in these few minutes, simply feeling, being with what was in my body.
I return now to my body sitting here writing this on my sun porch on this humid July morning in 2012, thankful for an occasional breeze, reflecting on all that my body has experienced in these last couple of hours – the morning chorus of the birds, the din of the traffic, the sound of the wind in the viburnum with the brief visit of a chickadee alighting on the branches right in front of my eyes.  All the while my body continues to heat up and bake on my porch and I can only think of throwing my body into the relief of that cold refreshing Vermont mountain stream.


Red and silver ornaments

Hanging on my Japanese maple in February

The snow flurries blow all around you

Swirling, whirling

Large soft flakes gently land on your heads

As the hours pass

More snowflakes pile on your tops

When I look out my living room window again

Each of your red and silver orbs are now wearing white fluffy hats

Your snowcaps

I smile

At the beauty, the stillness, the simplicity of this winter day

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Collective Pain, Collective Compassion

“As I remember them, what unprotected faces they were; their very roughness and violence made them defenceless.  These boys had no practised manner behind which they could retreat and hold people at a distance.  They had only their fists to batter at the world with.”

How much sorrow can we take?  How much suffering must we endure?  I can barely wrap my mind around another mass shooting.  And, yesterday my sons went to see that very film that was the venue for a deranged, mindless act of violence and aggression.  Yet, how much aggression goes on every day, every moment, in our own minds? 

Since our whole world is connected in this information age, I get the sense that we experience a collective pain when there is a tragedy, whether initiated by another human being or a natural disaster.  We unite as one body and feel the sadness; our hearts break together, one big broken human heart.  Broken hearts can either turn hard and defensive, or soften us as we realize our true human frailty and vulnerability and transform into outward shows of compassion and human kindness.

I realize that I can do very little for the victims and their families of the Aurora, Colorado massacre.  I do though hold them deeply and gently and profoundly in my mind and heart.  The fact is that could be any of us, any of our children or members of our families.  That is the fundamental truth here.  We have very little control over random acts of violence.  We are so vulnerable really.  We love so fiercely, so much so that we even lash out at the ones we cherish and love at times.  We show them our anger when what we mean to show them is our love and devotion.  It is out of defensiveness and self-protection and fear that we do this.  It is human, just as to love so purely and truly and unabashedly is human.  Just as pausing to take a breath, noticing the turmoil of our minds, and extending gentleness to ourselves is human.

The events of my own week reminded me of the humanness of my own broken, wounded heart.  There is a great big hole in my heart this week.  Gaping, open, alive, and raw.  It helps me feel others sadness, so I can reach them in their need, however clumsily and awkwardly at time. 

And, what of all those who have no one, not one other to experience close friendship or connection with?  This week as I drove to my office, I noticed a man, probably in his forties, turning left as I was stopped at the red light.  For some reason, he just caught my attention, and touched my heart, as he drove his beat up, old tan Chevy with an elderly woman, maybe his mother, who barely cleared the dashboard.  He was big man, with dark hair, large set chest, driving with perhaps the one person who matters most to him in this world.  He passed in seconds as I felt some reminder to be grateful for the time I have, the time to breathe in this precious life of mine, the time to share with my children who are growing up so fast, time to feel the collective pain and to tap into the collective heart of compassion. 

(Excerpt from My Antonia by Willa Cather)