Jean Marie Gunner

Jean Marie Gunner
We are all basically good.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

On The Spot



 

All of life, every single moment offers a choice to be fully present and on the spot.  Each breath is a leap of faith.  Every moment and every breath of our life have two things intimately in common; they are all beginnings and endings, births and deaths.  Each moment we continue on, we are counting on a world to embrace us to hold us to support us to hold us, and the expression, “Place the fearful mind in the cradle of loving kindness,” may seem like an easy thing to say or something that makes no sense because the world may feel too aggressive and on fire and testy and speedy.  How can we rely on this? Why do we so resist this?  However, taking just a single moment.  To pause.  To stop.  To take a breath.  To feel the in breath as the ever present supply of oxygen nourishes all of our insides moving out to our limbs and feeding each and every last cell in our bodies. 

Each summer my sons and I give ourselves a gift of eight days full of moments to simply be.  We travel to northeastern Vermont to a retreat center, Karma Choling, and experience with 220 others adults and children what it feels to live in an enlightened way.  Society or community begins with two people.  And when each person is relatively aware of their own mind and heart and being, the relationship can be rich and supportive and open. 

This is what the family camp experience is built upon.  Some camp in tents, some stay in the lodge, some of the teens stay together each night in what they call the “Pav.”  This was our third summer camp experience and the first year my eldest son did not stay in our family tent pitched in the upper meadow on the mountainside.  I am not sure I ever even thought to miss him.  I knew he was doing exactly his own thing.  Being his own self and having his own camp experience. 

And this gave me and my younger son, who is twelve and a half, open space to just be together.  Just a sentence or two about the condition of my heart this past summer.  I had just experienced an ending of a relationship.  I felt like a bird with a broken wing.  Beginning the camp experience crying my eyes out, I was clinging to an idea or wish that the other person would do what I thought he needed to do to make himself available to me.  This was a view that was simply creating more internal suffering for me.  So after about three days of intense suffering, I let my camp friends know that I was hurting, and I let the love in the meditation room, in the camp and in the teachings hold me like a newborn babe as I cried my heart whole again. 

By day four, with eyes red and swollen, and a heart broken but still beating, I was ready to be at camp, to open my heart no matter how broken and battered it felt.

On this same day, five parents and more than ten teenage and tween age kids carpooled over to the notorious train bridge jumping spot. It was a quintessential snapshot moment of Americana, a placid lazy Vermont river, an old last century train bridge, and ten teens and tweens standing on the edge of the train trestle poised but not quite ready to jump. 

Six girls and four boys stood on the precipice taking their time before their leap to the cool water below on an early August summer camp afternoon.  The parents waited on the river’s shore gazing up at our children aware of their tentativeness as they considered their jump.  And at some point, one of us, or perhaps collectively, we heard a train’s distinct whistle as it chugged its engine and cars down the track straight toward our children on the very bridge it would be traversing in less than a minute.  We awoke to the sound and snapped to paying attention to the reality of the present moment.  Our children stood, ostensibly oblivious, on the edge of the bridge’s train track in the path of this approaching train.  The moms were the first to react shouting up in our higher pitch voices “Jump.” “Jump.” Jump!”  Finally one of the dads, in his deep baritone voice, hollered the definitive “JUMP!” followed by a resounding chorus and urgent appeal of all the parental voices, “JUMP!!!” 

There was no mistaking the on the spot urgency of the adults below, and, as if on cue, the children began to throw their young bodies from the bridge.  It could not have been choreographed more elegantly.  As if a scene from the 1980s coming of age film, “Stand by Me,” first one, then two, then all plummeting into the river below.  Not one remained atop that bridge as the train chugged over that same bridge our children had just been standing only moments before.  One by one they swam over to the shore.  Reflecting back, not one of our youth froze and panicked.  They were all ready to react as the situation called for, being “on the spot” so to speak.  That “Stand by Me Moment” is indelibly inscribed I am certain on all the moms and dads standing on that river’s edge in the warmth and light of that sweet August afternoon.  What can that moment offer us in the way of a life teaching, of being poised and ready in our day to day lives of taking an authentic, on the spot leap of faith?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

IT IS TRUE


 
It is true

There’s no need of convincing

A heart is true

When it is given away

It is true

My heart’s a home

In your embrace

Tight and spacious

I realize

It is true

That with love

It is how I feel

Not what I know

It is true

When you die

My heart will break

Into a million pieces

And little seeds

Will disperse over the whole world

It is true

That this love will spread vastly

To every corner

And the light of love

Will sprout watered by you

It is true

It is good

Not too good to be true

Rather good because it is true

Leap of Faith


September brings crisp definition to life.  Even as life begins its transformation, its descent into and toward death, the sun continues to warm the inhabitants of this northern hemisphere of earth.  I ride along the same route, with my eldest son, who is now a go-pro photographer with his own You Tube channel, and posting with the appropriate hash tag to get his work noticed.

We ride, he shoots video, and I steadily quiet inside myself.  My good calm mind watches the clouds pass, the leaves come away from their branches which they have hung onto all summer long, and my thoughts and feelings and emotions are as effervescent and fleeting as everything in this preciously and reliably impermanent world of ours.  There is relief in that realization.  There is also a mix of sadness and joy. 

Just as in love, which is as dependably impermanent as all of it, there is the resonant pain and pleasure.  This year brought so much to light for me, and uncovered a groundless strength inside of me that is ageless and reliable.  I have come to realize the profound truth of living in the impermanence of the moment -- even if love turns to pain, remember it started out as love.  And when it comes to love, there is small mind love and there is vast love, true love.  That is the love that remains, the love that always was, and the infinite goodness that connects us to the All.  That reminds us of our universal connection, that our separateness is only a perception. And that perception can be mighty convincing for sure at times.   

When we decide to love another, when all the stars align to bring two humans together, and they find there is chemistry, as well as a karmic connection, the sparks fly and the only thing for certain is that it will continue on until it is over.  

Loving is for certain about taking a leap of faith.  I like to think of the many loves in my life and how they have enriched my existence.  There are small loves and big loves, and they are all pearls on the bracelet of my life.  In love we experience both joy and pain.  Whether intentional or not, when someone hurts us, we experience so many emotions.  Some of these emotions seem to happen simultaneously, but actually what is happening is a firing of reactions within our mind.  I know what goes on for me is this.  I start to fixate on dates and sequence of events when things are beginning to fall apart in a relationship.  The memories of the relationship and time spent together start jumping back in to my mind. I sequence the events together trying to make sense of the pain I am feeling by remembering exact dates and days and hours even.  I am not sure if this is a coping mechanism or just a part of the way my logic or proclivity to make sense of the world mathematically manifests itself as I go through the struggle to unhook emotionally from someone.  Observing, noticing, becoming aware can help me make sense of the difficulty I am encountering, and actually move through the pain.  I have learned that leaning in to the difficult emotions actually speeds up the healing process, and this is good.

Here is what I know. I have experienced a few big heartbreaks in my life.  There were some smaller ones, some moments or time periods of panic thinking that I couldn’t make it alone, that I was being abandoned.  Thankfully somewhere along the line, in space, in my life, I realized I was on a good path, and that working with my mind was not only an option but a necessity. 

This summer which I have cleverly labeled the “summer of my discontent,” I ended a relationship.  It was a big heartbreak.  A hunch I had, a suspicion I carried and was expressed in the way my body felt, was confirmed and I felt broken when the truth was revealed about the deception within the relationship.  I felt like a damaged bird.  In fact my broken wing was not only symbolic and emotional, it manifested physically.  My body has been healing from an injury of my left shoulder blade and neck and back.  My story offers a quality of redemption and resilience, since this is not a story of a victim, but of an alive warrior in this world. I know now that when we experience moments of profound pain, that if we can meet these moments with an openness, even one that feels as if it might break us, then unconditional confidence and gentleness and boundless compassion for ourselves is available and will help us move through any heartbreak.  Just consider for a moment the human stories that have moved you the most in your life.  These great struggles of human suffering that, when met with grace and truth and complete honesty, are the stories of human resilience and true bravery of the heart. 

True bravery is when we feel suffering and we are in pain, and are able to meet it, feel it in our body and do not try to either run away or repress it or lash back.  It is when we stand resolute in our human moment of whatever we are experiencing, having a trust in the knowing that the storm will blow over eventually.  The awareness that just like every cloud that has ever formed in the sky above has for time immemorial dissolved into open blue sky and that we can rely on that and let it hold and comfort us.  We are all living in space and time, and the passage of a stream of moments will bring relief and the sun is still shining even behind the storm clouds.

When my heart broke this summer, I cried, the tears flowed and flowed and I did not try to stop them.  I let the dam break and the water crest over some emotional levy.  And remembering past heartbreaks that I had weathered, I knew and trusted that the deep achy dry pain would pass if I really allowed myself to feel, to feel and not be awkward or embarrassed about any of it.  This was the kindest thing I could offer myself.

In love and the decision to love again, we must take a leap of faith full well knowing that pain and heartbreak are a component in the love equation.  True love lasts though even when the relationship is over.  It is the love we offered and put out into the world.  The opening of our heart and offering of love to another, to the world, is healing.  It heals the deep brokenness that has defined our world for millennia.  But there is a slow and steady growing awareness that the world is changing, the world and the people in it are waking up.  And awakened beings have a responsibility to stay awake, and just by being awake make a difference as a noticeable radiance is emitted into the world.  We don’t need to talk too much about it, just be this radiant open goodness.  Trust and follow in this openness, just like a flower is first a seed then growing to a beautiful fragrant lovely colorful being, it moves the world and the heart just by being what it is at its core. 

I realized as I rode these country roads through the end of summer crisp evening air with my lovely teenage son, that we are all called to be part of a team.  I see us as a team of humanity at this moment on earth.  And I realize that loving and being open to loving again is who I am.  It is my essence, it is the way I impact and change my world.  I love. That’s what I offer, love.  And that it is not so much as what we know about another as it is about how we feel with another.  Loving others and finding out more about me is just the way I interact and experience my world.  I may be more aware after this experience of my last heartbreak, I may be more patient and pay more attention and listen more acutely and spaciously to myself, but I will open myself and heart again since I know no other way to deeply experience this good world of ours.

 

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Bluebird of Happiness


I sit here in the backyard of my village home on a mid-July morning.  Tibetan prayer flags sway to the morning breezes coming from the east.  The sun has long since risen and the neighbor children are at play gathering sticks, as I can see through the little opening between our yards.

Some sort of fatigue has set in and my mind and body need a shift.  Since I cannot go away to counter this depression, I have decided to move my bedroom outside into my own village backyard.  My tent that has an open net roof is now my bedroom.  I had fallen asleep to the setting quarter moon last night and awoken to the chorus of dawn birds serenading me with trill and chirps and one rather incessant crow who flew away in a tizzy early this morning.

I had not been sleeping well for months and my mind would awaken me most nights sick with worry and negative thinking.  My emotional self has been in turmoil and I am aware of why this is.  It is the attachment and fixation I have to particular outcomes, to a driving need to wanting something to be different, to my worrying about "why" all the time.  If the why could dissolve into the next moment and just be another fleeting thought, oh that’s right, that is what it is.  I have come to realize that the responsibility of my house is overwhelming on my own, as the only adult here responsible for its maintenance.  We aren’t really designed to do it on our own, to raise families alone, or care for homes alone; we are social beings and live in community, so thinking we are the whole team that needs to do it all is really driven by fear, a need to control, and reliance on this cowboy mentality in our country of a supreme independence mindset.  What’s wrong with being dependent on someone or something, since we are at every living minute dependent on this lovely earth, the air we breathe, the sun beating down on us and each other living being.

What actions have I taken to shift this negative mindset?  Which causes and conditions have I pressed the reset button on to make my life and my good mind and my raw heart more aligned with the basic goodness that I know is the foundation of my existence? I have decided to downsize my bedroom to a small open air tent and lay down each night on the earth and gaze up at the vast open sky. To let nature and the natural good world have a crack at healing the raw woundedness I feel.  And frankly I don’t want to repress the open wound but I also don’t want to go around oozing it into the world of my family and friends and colleagues.  It is my responsibility to take some action to heal and rejoin the fractures I feel, but first I must feel them and feel them I will.  I am being reconstructed as I lay upon the earth each night as I sleep like I am in a cave with less worry and anxiety.  My panic is not taking me over awakening me in the middle of the dark night.  Instead, I am being cradled by something older than me and my wisdom has led me to this place of healing in my own backyard.  No one will probably ever love me enough to fill up that hole; onIy my own inner wisdom will hold me through all this living, breathing struggle. 

I have a view about the difficulty that I have encountered.  I am aware that we are not alone, we are part of a team, we don’t need to cover all the bases our self.  They don’t do that in sports games, so why would we think we have to do this in our own lives?  We are part of families and neighborhoods and work communities.  Some of us are even blessed enough to have loving supportive partners and spouses.  Love is bigger than all the fear in the world.  Kindness is the remedy for aggression.  When we are angry with someone, we could try opening to our kind hearts to love that person without thoughts, we might try prying open our tender heart even if it feels broken and brittle and little like the Grinch's and let a little bit of the serum of compassion pour out.  Funny, then we feel suddenly more connected and tuned in to the other.  And our beloved helps us feel our own hearts of basic goodness, our own sorrows and our own joys.

And in relationships we just have to have these difficult experiences to get to know each other and our self with the other.  And, there may always be a theoretical better someone out there for each of us, but for my part, I am tired of shopping and I could just use a break from all the mental struggle with my own need to control outcomes, secure love, be safe, and be protected. My attachment to being attached causes me great pain, yet we as humans are attached by that visceral broth of humanness and interdependence that this human flesh requires us to be.  I see that it is not so much attachment to the person in the end as it is to wanting that person to be a certain way, to want the relationship to be a certain way. How liberating and loving if I might just let go a little more to let the person love me either the way he does or doesn’t?


This ongoing struggle with wishing for a particular outcome, an afterward, that hasn’t happened yet, and fearing it never will be, is just a reality that I am now feeling and I had to take matters into my own hands and change my causes and conditions.  I had to find a medicine that would heal me.  I had to let the earth cradle me in loving kindness.  I need to trust the world enough to let it embrace me, to heal me, to embody the qualities that I aspire to be for my world and heal something deep within me that has bubbled up and will not go away until I feel it.  As a mom and member of my family, I couldn’t go on an away retreat so I brought the retreat to me each night.
This all takes kindness, gentleness and courage, and I find out time and time again that I have all those qualities, and it takes a visit by the bluebird of happiness of my own basically good backyard to just let it all be even if it means falling apart.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Love's Litmus Test



When there is summer and there is no wind it feels like 1000 degrees.  Today is exactly one of those humid summer days where the air feels close.  Where our skin feels like it is melting into space and that there really is no space between our body and what always seemed like space before.  It is as if we are swimming in a summer soup of body and hair and skin and air and space and room.  Room.

Now I will say I am drinking a Lemon Drop Martini made with fresh berries and squeezed lemons and Mango Vodka (purchased at the Duty Free in Saint Kitts in the Lesser Antilles where I was conveniently stranded during an early February snow storm this winter) and Triple Sec.  All perfectly shaken and chilled with lots of ice on this close hot sultry summer evening in Western New York in early July.

I just finished a seven mile bike ride with my eldest son who is now 15 and a High School Sophomore in September.  I don’t actually think about how much I love these rides with him and our conversations, but now that I am writing this essay I realize how grateful I am for the ease of our communication as we both face forward riding into the summer air on this July day.  We just start talking to each other freely without agenda.  My usual worries and concerns which may very well seem like a rant to him at times, as they ought to, since he has had some serious lapses in judgment where school was concerned his first year in high school – the transition and high school learning curve was quite steep and I am still mystified on how a boy of his high intelligence could let good grades slip through his proverbial high school fingertips.  Despite all this, mom and son ride into space facing forward and the words just flow. 

I do confide in my eldest son quite a bit I think because I don’t have a partner living with me.  I lean on him like I might a husband at least as far as figuring out certain household issues or other life matters are concerned. And he is deliberate in his thinking and analysis and very considerate in his responses. 

Our conversation this evening orbited around creation versus evolution.  Recently he said to me during a rather difficult week of my life mainly having to do with the one I love needing space and me needing closeness.  Funny how someone we love saying they need space suddenly equates in our mind to ‘I don’t love you anymore.’  We may feel so confident in one moment, and then we feel deflated, and even worse, completely unlovable and worthless when the one we love turns away from us even if for a day or week.  Our ego can so fixate and cling to the other as if all the oxygen we ever needed is being provided by that one alone. 

I said to Kailen even this evening that there are three people in my life right now that if something happened to them and they were taken away from my life that I would feel I could not live without them.  Kailen said, “Well mom that tells if you are really in love with someone.  It is the In Love Litmus Test.”  And as we rode on through space I thought to myself about that for a moment.  And I said but I know I love so many other people but could somehow live on without them and how is that possible.  I then became aware that it is because of the clinging my mind and heart have to those three.  I am fixed on them like they are my true north.  And that may be the definition of true love but it is also the definition of fixation.  We both agreed and rode on. 

So as we moved through space so did our dialogue.  Kailen has shared a little secret about deliberate contemplative conversation.  Sometimes he has an idea he is formulating and he decides not to share until the idea or concept has gelled in his own mind.  I often thought if a man I loved held something from me he was holding his love from me.  It took years, really decades to realize that it is a sign of intelligence to give some consideration to thoughts or feelings and how to express them cogently in words before just simply spewing them forth. Or, it is just a different way, equally good.  And that I, too, have held back when I wasn’t sure how to quite put something out there into the world.  Now sometimes it is courageous to wait and sometimes courageous to deliver the message on the spot.  It is a matter of discernment.  And you can be sure that we will not always get it right and that is okay.   

We sort of blended the idea of creationism and evolution into a radical idea that probably neither camp would be too crazy about, neither the scientists nor the dogmatic believers would accept as a possible scenario.  There seems to be a gap in the evolution scenario somewhere between the hominids of the Neanderthals and the homosapiens and this, from the standpoint evolutionary biology, has not been bridged or reconciled.  What if there was a creator and that creator was simply a more intelligent life form from somewhere off in the cosmos, the great vastness of space beyond our planet but not beyond our own minds?

Our ride ended with that thought and I poured myself a martini and continued sitting in the quiet of this stunningly close July evening.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Protection


"You remember the great things and the bad things but not the regular things, those you forget. " Wise Words of my 12 year old son
“There are all kinds of love in this world but never the same love twice.”  F. Scott Fitzgerald
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

 

Basic goodness is everything.  We can have confidence in our own basic goodness.  We can take a rest there.  Our mind is clear.  Our mind is stable.  Our mind is strong.  Vulnerability is a sign of strength and it takes great kindness and gentleness to expose our most vulnerable self to another human being.  For me it has been much easier revealing myself, my darkness, and my well hidden secrets to the phenomenal world of nature.  I could hold on for dear life to the bark of a tree’s trunk and rest my chest and forehead against the upright strength of the tree standing before me, holding me and the full weight of my human body and fears and be with this other without words.  I could go to the forest and drop my guard and sob into the arms of a tree.  I could lay my body down on the soft earth and be as fractured as I felt and feel pieced back together by the breath and pulse of the earth beneath my weight.  I could sit crossed-legged and cry my eyes out to the wildflowers so alive and seemingly frail as they waved their delicate bodies in the air currents.  I could rest, really inhale my breath, and let my fatigue from keeping secrets go as I lay held in the arms of a large stone boulder, laying prone with my face to the sun above as insects landed on my body and crawled over me.  None of these beings were out to hurt me or get me or do me intentional harm.  Humans only do those things because of their ignorance and confused minds, because they doubt their own basic goodness.  They have sadly forgotten. 

In the forest, or by the water, I could utter my deepest hidden pain aloud.  The words came straight out of my heart knowing and trusting that none of the non-human beings in the world would betray me.  They were only here to protect me, a fellow traveler on this planet in this solar system in a vast universe.

I have lived a life of joy and sadness.  I am in my late 40s and my parents are aging and my children growing up.  I am open to my world, my sweet good imperfect world that is really and truly basically good.  I am confident in my basic goodness and the strength of my own mind.  I feel my human heart alive and awake in my world.  But I still wonder where I belong sometimes, and where I need to exert myself to start moving down the path that is my next teacher in life.  I know that everything is impermanent, every relationship, every person, every situation, every cause, every condition, every thought, every feeling, every day, every moment, every breath.  All of this completely and beautifully and tragically impermanent. 

Our hearts are the barometers for the way we move through our world.  Hiding and deception are covers for a fearful heart.  All hearts get touched and broken and the further we open to our world, the more we empty of concepts and ideas and memories that hold us back from being touched.  But this doesn’t mean that at times we don’t panic or collapse or shut down or seize up.  I have walked through my world with an open heart and have asked for it to be broken because of this way of being.  I have met some open hearted others who also let their hearts be touched in their own way.  When we choose to let ourselves love another, we are asking for a heart break.  Separation is inevitable.  Everything changes.  Yet to empty ourselves of our preconceptions and stories of how it should be or will be or thinking we know what the other will do or say, we allow the possibility of real connection, of being loved, really loved for the essence of who we are, not the idea of who we are.  We give space for being loved and accepted like the natural world loves and accepts us, without pretention or judgment or drama or expectation. 

This morning, I shared with another human being my dirty messed up dark and yucky parts of me in the light of my radiant, resilient goodness that shines like a beacon through the fog of old wounds.  I exposed my tender most little being that feels frightened and raw and in need of protection.  I have a man in my life, for how long I cannot know, that sits still and listens with a mind and heart of goodness to my ache, as I drain the muck from my insides all the while knowing that I am good and wholesome and lovable and worthy of love and loving.  I had been hiding this secret from the person I loved because of my fear that I was marred in some way that was irrecoverable.  Before I could let my sadness and grief out, I had to empty myself of old ideas and notions of who I am.  I feel redemption in this act of sharing.  With the force of the past feeling like a wave gaining force and power in the middle of my chest, I realized that the only thing I could do was let it pour forth.  In this I realized again there’s truly nothing about my life, or past, or childhood that needed any further hiding or defending.  All that I needed, all that any of us ever really need is in the present, the moment we find ourselves alive in.  The essence of being alive, being human, is being the breathing present being we already are.  And no matter what we’ve done or has been done in the past to us, we are all still worthy, worthy of our own love and another’s love.  We all deserve protection and truly loving another means offering the protection of our shared humanity. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

RUINS



We are all connected

Humans, trees, birds

All of the kingdoms

And we comprise one Universal Kingdom

In love, the force of our fears, expectations, doubts, lack of worthiness

Create a drain and the our goodness feels dulled

Still the innate goodness remains as the essence of our universal connection

Some loves end up in ruins

The ruin of our own hope and fear

The human misunderstanding

Doubting how could I ever be loved that much, and,

Am I worthy?

Yes, we are all that worthy and good

You can always live inside of me

For once we found one another

You came home

Every love, every home starts from emptiness

Takes form

Loving is an action as well as a resting place

The ruins are only an illusion

Of love that is never-ending

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Suspended Heart

To my mind, there is nothing that could be worse than not knowing the fate of a loved one, particularly a child.  A parent suffers the most when a child is missing; the parent’s mind and heart are suspended between hope and fear.  I bring this up because of a dream I experienced last night. 

It is the start of May, a spring time of possibility, of new growth, of hatchlings in their nest with wide, hungry mouths to feed, of sunshine that penetrates the atmosphere bringing forth life on earth in our northern hemisphere as our planet tilts toward the epicenter of our solar system.  I am fortunate to live in a safe community, a place full of people, potential, communal happenings, trust and generosity.  There is an abundance of young children and teenagers and parents and families, a flush of humanity in my village, which has yet still to awaken to this new day.  I sit here drinking a dark rich coffee and writing the workings of my mind as the sun rises over my shoulder and my heart sings its own thanks for all the goodness in my world. 

Yesterday my community, Hamburg, put on an all-day music fest.  This festival brought to town 1000 people wanting to party, enjoy music and celebrate the beginning of another beautiful Western New York Summer.  A few of us sat on my backyard patio sipping Lemon Drop Martinis and snacking on appetizers soaking in the last of the day’s warm rays.  I walked to Hamburg’s Memorial Park to join 500 other people, young adults, families, seniors, and children playing and laughing.  At 8 p.m. sharp one of the organizers of the Hamburg Music Fest led the audience in a sing-along of “All You Need is Love,” joining other people throughout the town in singing an iconic song that reminds us of what we all, one way or another, live out our lives for.

I meandered with friends up Main Street, Hamburg, USA, a slice of Americana at its finest with businesses flying the American Flag and coffee shops, pizza parlors, hair salons, local banks, restaurants, including Mexican, Italian, American grills, bars, offices, a floristry, an even an educational center equipped with commercial kitchen and yoga space dedicated to enlightening our community about healthier eating and being.  Another 300 people gathered on Main Street drinking beer and wine and listening to the live music provided by local musicians.  It was quite a scene.  Every few steps, I would encounter a friend or someone I knew.  It felt cheerfully good.

Turning to walk home early, I wanted to join my children and sit on my front sun porch so I could listen to the sounds and musical happenings from the comfort of my own space, an arts and craft style bungalow that I purchased and rehabbed 10 years ago when I was just separated and my boys were only 2 and 5 years old.  My how a decade has flown by, and my children have grown taller than me, and I have witnessed the growth of families with new babies in our neighborhood every year.  I am forever surrounded, and happily so, by children both at home and work.  I love how my next door neighbor’s children peek through the opening of the fence, a perfect entrĂ©e, between the yards and unhesitatingly join me in my backyard.  Just the other day these same children, ages 2 and 7, came over to help me sow peas in my raised beds.  You  could practically hear the microbes in the soil rejoice as little happy human hands moved the earth about adding seeds that would soon sprout to life and bring forth more life on earth, in our little corner of the planet.

Awakening this morning, my mind quickly registered the sounds of the dawn chorus, in particular the resounding honk of a flock of geese overhead while I still rested my body in my own bedroom nest. 

My backyard garden beds are bursting with life.  The ferns and Forget-Me-Nots and Bleeding Hearts grow prolifically overnight.  One day they were just barely visible buds poking out of the soil and the next they are startlingly in voluptuous bloom.  It is sacred and sensuous and moving, all this growing and living around me in my small 60 by 50 foot backyard.  As small as it is, it doesn’t change the basic truth of the goodness of rebirth.  It reminds me of when I was first pregnant, when I was told that my uterus was the shape of a lemon inside of me, probably I was only 2 weeks on, but I felt the immediate pull of life inside of me being.  And I am reminded of that in my garden beds, that even when the winter snows began to melt away, and only the memory of the garden life from the year before is a present reminder of what would once flourish again so abundantly, I still viscerally feel an awareness of the budding life and the truth of all that is reborn each spring time.  Then to find myself again amidst the rampant growth of everything in my yard, grasses, buds on the Norway Maple above my head spitting tree pollen all over the patio furniture and concrete below, the yellowness of the plump dandelions, the Viburnum that pushed forth its leaves through pregnant buds as if overnight, the ferns beneath the rapidly producing Dawn Redwood that grows ever taller to the heavens above each spring after its winter’s rest, and the ever reliable hosta that unfold their leaves so sensually each May.  How could we ever doubt the basic goodness of a rich, green life-producing earth that always remembers to wake up?

This entire continual verdant resurrection taking place is a calming reminder for a heavy heart and troubled mind with which I awoke to the world this morning.  Rebirth is something we can count on each year, it never fails us, and it is basically good for certain.  As I fell asleep last night before 11, after having read a chapter of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, a book that I am reading in sips, I felt moved by the longing and love of one Russian’s heart.  My mind, as it dreamed last night, encountered a reality that for me is the most difficult any human being could face, the loss of a child, but even more specifically the unknown fate of a child.  In my dream, there was a turbulent sea whose level had risen unexpectedly, and my youngest son had boarded a vessel without any other members of his family.  Waves were rising and washing everything in their path out to sea in a violent torrent.  There was no stopping the onslaught of water’s fury.  And all I could see in my mind was my son as he parted from me to board a ship, alone.  As the water pounded the land and homes, a group of people had gathered and all I could do was think of my son’s fate.  My heart was heavy and broken, my mind grasped on to some small ray of hope that the sea faring vessel had somehow managed to ride the dangerous swells of water and that he would be okay.  I felt myself crying in my dream, and even though I knew that I was only dreaming, it did not take away the heaviness and deep sadness that settled into my heart.  It reminded me that this is some people’s realities right now, that a child or loved one is missing, and that the mind naturally longs for the child’s return. 

The heart always holds out some hope for a safe return while bracing itself for the worst and fearing the loss, yet fearing even more the not knowing.  A suspended heart of sadness is a grief that never seems to be assuaged.  As difficult as it is to not know, wanting to stay in a suspended state because the grief of actually knowing with absolute certainty that one’s child is dead seems too large a suffering to bear.  Yet never knowing is like meeting death and impermanence over and over again, moment after moment.  Which grief is more, I cannot say?   I was just grateful that when I finally did rise from the nest of my bed and go to my son’s room, I felt the palpable relief and supreme gratitude that he lay there serenely in his own bed, face down in his own dreams.   

Today, I will sit quietly and contemplate during my morning meditation all the people who are suspended between knowing and not knowing.  I will extend the fabric of my heart to them.  I will wish them some small peace, all the while realizing that they live in constant fear.  I will acknowledge this and give thanks for the original peace I feel and remind myself to not take the blessings of my life for granted, not even for one moment.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Working with Habitual Patterns -- A Tribute to My Son on His Birthday


The single greatest challenge in love and sustaining the basic goodness that resides within loving relationships is our habitual patterns.  Our habits are both an obstacle and an opportunity.  When we experience something somewhat familiar, whether a good or bad feeling, the memory triggers our mind to remember; and when something feels similar to an experience in the past, we may react the same way if we don’t pause to notice first.  We are conditioned to respond similarly over and over again, and we do this, ironically, even if the outcome was not what we wished for or wanted in the past.  The good news is that we can re-program our habitual responses and tendencies.  The situation is workable.  If we can slow down and pause for even a few moments, and feel the habitual response in our body, we can make some adjustments to the way we typically respond.  Retraining our mind to respond differently, or creating a new and healthier pattern, takes time and the reprogramming takes places in the body and in the mind.
 
The mind is basically good, that is clear, stable and strong beneath all the tapes, patterns, criticisms, self-judgment, and fear.  And the good news is every situation can be worked with.  The first, and most important thing we can do to shift habits and our knee-jerk responses, is to be aware, with supreme gentlenss, and even if we aren’t aware all the time, which most of us are not, when we say or think or do something that is a habitual response, it wakes us up.  We notice and then take a moment to pause before reacting, or at least considering pausing before reacting.

My eldest son is a teenager and in his first year of high school.  The last few days I have caught myself reacting to him.  I have been reminding myself, with kindness and gentleness, that I want to rewire my response to his patterns and pace in the morning.  He has trouble getting up and getting going, and I have been a neurotic mess in the morning, actually for many years, sometimes yelling, becoming anxious, whipping around the house like a tornado thinking that moving everyone along into their routines at this frenzied pace will help ensure a smoother running day for us all. 

I have realized  some things.  First, we do need to keep a schedule because school and work all do have a start time and we are bound by this in our society.  Second, I am responding to my own long held patterns and personal struggles of getting going in the morning that I have experienced first years ago as a child and teenager, in my years in graduate school in Chicago, then in my marriage, and when my children were babies.  For many reasons, including some depression I experienced, starting my days was a challenge for a long time for me.  It has become clear to me that my son is reminding me of my own habitual patterns and fearfulness of the depressive tendencies I had for years, depression that I think continued because I was too afraid to look at some things in my life truthfully.
 
My son has a practice he now does which is to sit with his eyes open in the living room and look around the house.  He said to me the other evening that he just wanted to walk around the house and look around at everything, to be aware of the world in our own home.   He has expressed some anxiousness about the speediness with which he feels the world is moving and the pressures of high school and growing up.   And as he sat the last couple of mornings, I caught myself in my knee-jerk pattern of too aggressively reminding him to go and get ready.  Very gently he reminded me that he was sitting and calming his mind for the day ahead.  This stopped me in my tracks and I stopped repeating my same morning, "let's get going" worn out mantra.  His quiet reminder to me woke me up on the spot, spoke to me to stop pushing my agenda, my fears and anxieties onto to him.
 
Today is his 15th birthday.  He is a burgeoning, awakening being.  I am thankful for his loving kindness and gentle patience as we all uncover our way to waking up.

Friday, March 22, 2013

As Quietly as a Mouse


One evening, as quietly as a mouse, I crept into stand by the side of my twelve year old son’s bed.  I just stood there, stock still with the night air enveloping me.  I felt to be dissolving into the space and swirling colliding molecules in the air around my body.  For those few moments, time stopped, as I quietly as possible inhaled and exhaled, breathing in my son, his frame barely silhouetted by the light from outside poking in from the space between the Roman shade and the sill.  Quiet.  Night.  Air.  Breath.  Body.  Love. Mother. Son.

Then Aidan said in his still young boy voice that will, no doubt, soon to be changing, “Hi mama.”  Those two simple words spoken all over the world were felt more than heard, reaching into a place inside of me, a place that words cannot touch.  It was the eternal connection between mother and child, as ancient as life itself on this earth.

I climbed into his bed and nuzzled into him, inhaling his boy scent at the nape of his neck, and no other moment mattered but this one.  Time suspended and the only truth for me was our two bodies touching, our hearts loving one another.  A few moments later I asked, “How’d you know I was here?”  He answered without a second’s pause, “I sensed you.”

It is winter in Western New York, cold with snow falling from the vast sky above blanketing the February ground.  Our winter has vacillated from snowy and blustery and freezing, to warm snaps and rain and full melting of the snowy blanket.  Some say it feels strange and I suppose it does to me too.  But it is what we have.  It is our reality in this moment in our earth’s temporal history.

My boys and I like to ski and snowboard.  We went out recently and my oldest, Kailen, sometimes feels a need to leave us so he can really cut loose and practice his snowboard finesse.  I am a skier and my youngest, Aidan, is a boarder.  He is still developing his skill and likes the slopes that are quieter.  He and I found a slope that is shaped in a bowl virtually free of other people.  There is always that one run that sticks with you after a day of being on the slopes.  The sun had just set, and the night time had closed in around the day.  All was still except the sound of our edges meeting the slope, making a crisp swish.  The air felt fresh in my nostrils, the trees were standing guard as we made our way from one side of the bowl to the other.  The experience felt precise and fresh and alive, and it only lasted a few minutes as we traversed that run together in harmony. 

Standing by his bed quietly that same evening, it felt as if we were one, we had perfectly paired on that ski slope and also in those quiet few moments in his bedroom.  The pairing of two human beings happens rather magically and ordinarily.  It cannot be orchestrated.  It simply happens when it happens. And yet these moments of creating something from nothing, from an emptiness to a moment in which the heart feels full and free of preferences and agenda and concepts and stories, are with us throughout our lives, actually throughout our days and moment to moment existence.  It is in being still enough and receptive enough to notice that the gift of oneness is experienced.  Paying attention to our life takes practice. 

Human beings feel a need to protect each other.  As I consider more about this basic instinct to take care of each other, I realize that it takes a certain combination of gentleness, kindness, courage and vulnerability to make ourselves available to both being protected and protecting. 

As a woman, I have made my way in my life after mostly looking after myself and have only in recent years, in my forties, come to see value and a desire in letting myself drop my stories and defenses in order to be protected by another, specifically by a man. 

I think all human beings at their core have a natural instinctive propensity to guard those they love, particularly when we think of mothers and their children.  This is not singularly unique to humans as there are many mammals that fiercely protect their young. 

I am also contemplating the male protecting his loved ones and how this instinct is something so beautiful and tender, and yet possibly something we have pushed away over the last four or five decades as our world changed and women became as prevalent in the work place and our economy as men, and often even earning more than their male partners, and leaving the “mothering” to the fathers in certain circumstances. 

We naturally want to partner and be with others, at least most of us do.  What would account for all the dating sites and new forms and formulations of late 20th and early 21st dating?  I, myself, have come to see very clearly that allowing myself to be cared for, protected by and loved by a man is something that I not only want, it is an innate need of mine, to pair up with someone, the right one, of the opposite sex.  It has taken me years and decades even to admit this, to drop my guard to say this out loud, and inside my own head and heart.  It has taken me a long time to let my vulnerability and tenderness open me to the love of a man, to trust a man enough, to have faith in his stability and constancy, however impermanent; it has taken a lifetime to say I want to grow old with someone.

I see clearly now that as much as men, at least the ones I am honored to know, want to protect their loved ones, with fierce and fearless hearts, they are vulnerable themselves, and they must trust in their tenderness and strength enough to offer this to another person, a woman, their beloved.  To protect, one must become vulnerable to their own hearts, they risk being rejected and pushed away; they risk losing the one they love as impermanence is a certainty as surely as we live and breathe.  And yet the urge to pair is so primordial and transformative, that we if we risk and see clearly our own self and the other self that wants to be loved and protected, then pairing becomes quite possible and quite lovely. 

And, listening, deep profound and abiding listening, is the fertile ground that loving, good, protecting relationships need.  We have a yearning to be loved, and it nourishes us.  It nourishes our primordial beings.  And I sense in my atoms and molecules and nuclei of my being, that surely as I return to my breath, I wish to return to someone’s loving embrace and protectiveness.  For me there is this visceral feeling of coming home to a primeval forest, an ever-moving stream in the fresh mountain air.

 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Listening


“Everything and everyone is speaking to us.”

There was once a prince who had at his disposal every worldly desire one could imagine, yet, Siddhartha Gautama knew that something was missing.  It wasn’t so much an emptiness as it was something just not quite adding up, a nagging feeling of being trapped, trapped by one’s own confusion.  The confusion was resulting from a mind that was ignorant, ignorant as in not yet realizing something.  The world beyond his grand palace was not even a world that existed for him.  Like the view once that the world was flat, this prince went around thinking that his world ended at the palace’s door.  There was nothing beyond it, nothing that he could yet relate to anyway.  The prince’s world was completely filled up, or so it seemed.  Still, he had a nagging doubt and became inquisitive and started to explore the world beyond the castle walls.  Just at that moment, the prince made room for the world beyond his narrow view to begin speaking to him. 
 
I tell this story because it gives me insight into my heart and the experience of loving another.  When we meet someone, when there is mutual attraction, there is this sense of moving parts, of a dynamic experience rich with unknown actions and words and feelings and sensory experiences.  New love is fresh and has infinite potential; we are the artist upon which we will create the masterpiece of our love.  In love there is a second co-creator painting the mural, and it is our beloved.  The actions and feelings and thoughts and words to be spoken cannot be known because they have yet to occur in the new experience.  Vast is the potential of the love, of the mural.  With the painting of the mural, color begins to fill up the space on the canvas; the emptiness that existed prior to the love beginning is filled up with experiences.  Color emerges. Form takes shape.  Images  appear.  It is mysterious, but the mystery begins to become defined.  As space is taken up it, we may have the thought or feeling that that the experience taking place becomes less interesting, because it is no longer new.  Actually, this is precisely when opening our hearts further can lead us out of our own little confined palaces, like the prince, to discover that which we were fundamentally ignorant of before; we begin to let ourselves go deeper into our life's truly magical experiences.   

My sense is that when we overlay the raw, in-the-moment experiences with expectations, hopes or fears, is precisely when the love, the mural, loses its freshness, its oxygen.  Colors begin to fade or dull.  We begin to expect something different, like a particular result, and forget the wide open space that had heretofore existed on the canvas.  The freshness of the experience is somehow lost. We may experience disappointment, and be let down.  The unknown, which we before felt drawn to, now begins to frighten us.  Ironically and profoundly significant is that the nature of the experience that drew us in the first place was its fresh poignant impermanence, its momentariness, its presence.  We could never have known what would take place on the canvas, in our hearts, beyond the castle walls.  If we begin fixing a point, defining our love, suffering occurs.  We try to freeze love for fear of it dying or of our beloved leaving us.  How could we ever possibly go on without him or her?  Forgetting that we were going on before, we begin to crush the love, suffocate it, muss up the beauty and images, and the colors all run together and lose their natural elegance. In our ignorance and confusion, we suffer.

Here is something we have forgotten.  We are responsible for our happiness.  When things in love start feeling claustrophobic or even too distant, the whole thing begins to either implode or explode.  The love that was once there so vibrant and healthy, seems to have disappeared or even worse never existed in the first place.  Was it ever present?  Was it ever real?  Like the volcanic mountain of Mount Nevis by which I am sitting as it breathes its living force of both the fire of its teeming core or its cool refreshing water source of its deep natural spring, I sense magic, a very ordinary life giving sacred energy.  I cannot hold it.  I cannot define it.  I cannot capture it and contain it.  I can only let it run through me and feed me as I then in turn feed the rest of the world that I touch and encounter throughout my day. 

In this world, I comport myself with a code of conduct; it is with the sense that I am meeting the sacred world with a strong upright dignified posture and a soft and tender heart.  I, like the prince, knew there was something worth investigating beyond the four walls of the castle, the cocoon of my own mind's narrative and patterns, and it has taken me a good deal of living to get to some semblance of a code that fits with me, my being, as well as my interconnected being in the world.  The presence of gentleness, combined with fearlessness, gives nutrients to a life that is founded on basic goodness, and a wisdom derived from our human natural intelligence.  The life spark seems to have always been; I derive my confidence and well-being from being present in my moment-by-moment existence in our phenomenally beautiful world.  I then in turn can offer back to the world my experience of basic goodness in the form of deep listening, profound kindness and open hearted compassion, all synonymous for love.

As we sense our goodness, and risk being touched by the world and leaving our little palaces or cocoons, there are infinite moments when we can wake up throughout our day.  Each and every encounter, even if it feels contrived or placed with obstacles can awaken us.  As we go through our lives, and if we are blessed enough to wake up a bit through a mindful-awareness practice that we have been taught, we can more readily avoid the river of obstacles of our own making.  This does not mean that we will not be sad.  Impermanence is a fundamental truth.  We lose our loved ones; things are in constant flux and change.  Life would not exist without change, existence would not even be.  We would not be.  This does not mean there is less love, there is just less fixation and more awareness of our life and its fleeting nature.  There is the truth that there is a path to wake up, and waking up tenderly and bravely brings us to touch our own genuine heart of sadness.  It is genuine because it is always changing and transforming us.

I am spending a week of retreat from my everyday life, although this experience of being here by virtue of the fact that I am here is now my everyday life.  I am here with a friend from long ago.  I had no idea what to expect when we came together.  Expectations would have only built concepts and a narrative around an experience that had yet to be lived.  So, I remained open.  I knew that I wanted to have a week-long experience of being present to myself and my friend.  After years of touching my basic goodness, of mindfulness practice, I have come to the realization and profound awareness that friendship itself can become intensely intimate.  Either way, showing up as who we are to the other and deeply listening to them and the world around us as we move through space and time is an expression of generosity, of basic goodness, of our essence.  I have become aware that the simple act of listening, with an open mind and a willingness to be heartbroken, bridges the distance between two human hearts.  This is true love, truly loving another human being.  On this island as I see goats, pigs, cows, sheep and monkeys living symbiotically and at peace with human beings, I see that we can take a lesson on how to live with our earth in all its naturalness in a more sane and joyful way.

As in our case, we both have experienced marriage, the birth of children, divorce, uncertainty, heartaches and breaks, and still we are willing to take this journey to our centers, to our hearts, to our foundation.  My friend has opened his heart to me on this journey we are taking together for this short while.  Many things he has been generous and openhearted enough to share with me will remain with me for my life time.  One I wish to share is about listening.  As we sat together one tropical evening by the seafront in Nevis having a drink, he had a realization of when he knew his marriage had ended; it was when the listening between the two of them had stopped.  That was so simple and real.  It made sense and it was spoken with such genuine truth and sadness that I felt, as I looked into his eyes deeply listening without filter or self-consciousness, that I was looking into a mirror and seeing the ancient, ageless nature of what we are. 

As we drove through the beachside yesterday, the clouds began to form in the east and we traversed a rather rough and rock strewn road to come upon a raw strip of beach.  We passed bales of wool on the side and a dilapidated horserace course, to end up in front of a donkey that stood tethered to a wooden post.  The donkey had wound himself good and tight around the pole and both my friend and I immediately had the very human empathetic response to assist this animal in need.  With the help of our sense perceptions and even a force more primordial than our eyes or ears, we knew that this fellow sentient being was suffering.  We had a visceral response in our core to relieve the suffering.  Without really pausing he jumped out of the car and tried to get the stressed out animal to unwind itself.  With a heart of goodness and love, my friend responded and not really knowing how the animal would in turn react, this sad animal managed to further wind himself up.  From my spot, I could only feel my aching heart, helpless, completely and utterly helpless to do anything useful.  The only thing I could do is express my compassion and feel the immense sadness in my heart, to feel my good human heart so raw, so broken. 

Sensing that the donkey would not unwind and would only work itself up more and hurt itself, we drove off to a beach which by this time had become overtaken by wind and a grey storm cloud drawing closer from the east.  We decided to return and as we passed the donkey, he had managed to completely hook himself to the pole, with no room to move and with a hoof now caught in the little bit of rope that was slack.  It was one of the saddest sights I have ever witnessed.  Neither of us talked for a bit.  Words seemed hollow and superficial in the face of the realization that our happening upon that animal, and willingness to do good, may have caused more harm and suffering, however unintended. 

This morning as I sat in front of my island meditation shrine, spontaneously tears welled in my eyes and spilled out for that animal, for my friend Eric, for my son Kailen,  for old and new friends in my heart, for my own broken heart, for my beautiful world in all its true forms both of suffering and joy, love and fear, confusion and stability. 

I could not have been more in love with my world and everyone in my life, and everyone around my life than I was at that moment.  And I gave thanks for the teachings of truth and goodness that have been offered to me without our time’s transactional mindset.  The wisdom has been transmitted so that I, like so many others, might remember and awaken to all that is good in me and all that is good in everyone.

I ended my meditation sitting practice with a poem by David Whyte, “The Winter of Listening.”  I share with you now reader this poem which expressed in its unique medium that which I felt this morning, that which I have been feeling through this whole experience with myself and my friend, that which I am experiencing as I open my heart to touch love again, to touch my world again, to become vulnerable yet made whole by opening up to the forces of the world, its life force and its inevitable heartbreak.    Poetry is a doorway to that which we need to hear and the truth which we may ourselves be unable to speak.  It is the voice of our primordial goodness.

 

THE WINTER OF LISTENING

By David Whyte

 

No one but me by the fire,

my hands burning

red in the palms while

the night wind carries

everything away outside.

 

All this petty worry

while the great cloak

of the sky grows dark

and intense

round every living thing.

 

What is precious

inside us does not

care to be known

by the mind

in ways that diminish

its presence.

 

What we strive for

in perfection

is not what turns us

into the lit angel

we desire,

 

what disturbs

and then nourishes

has everything

we need.

 

What we hate

in ourselves

is what we cannot know

in ourselves but

what is true to the pattern

does not need

to be explained.

 

Inside everyone

is a great shout of joy

waiting to be born.

 

Even with summer

so far off

I feel it grown in me

now and ready

to arrive in the world.

 

All those years

listening to those

who had

nothing to say.

 

All those years

forgetting

how everything

has its own voice

to make

itself heard.

 

All those years

forgetting

how easily

you can belong

to everything

simply by listening.

 

And the slow

difficulty

of remembering

how everything

is born from

an opposite

and miraculous

otherness.

 

Silence and winter

has lead me to that

otherness.

 

So let this winter

of listening

be enough

for the new life

I must call my own.

 

Every sound

has a home

from which is has come

to us

and a door

through which it is going

again

out into the world

to make another home.

 

We speak

only with voices

of those

we can hear ourselves

and the body has a voice

only for that portion

of the body of the world

it has learned to perceive.

 

It becomes

a world itself

by listening

hard

for the way

it belongs.

 

There it can

learn

how it

must be

and what

it must do.

 

And

here

in the tumult

of the night

I hear the walnut

above the child’s swing

swaying

its dark limbs

in the wind

and the rain now

come to

beat against my window

and somewhere

in this cold night

of wind and stars

the first whispered

opening of

those hidden

and invisible springs

that uncoil

in the still summer air

each yet

to be imagined

rose.