The Mine Field

So much news – fake and true – is swirling about. So much to respond to, react, beware, act on. So many petitions to sign, money sought and I want to give. I want to give my heart and mind to the mysteries of this immediate life. I don’t know what will happen next. Some, more prescient than I, have noted the coming of these times and predicted them. I didn’t notice. Where was I? I was basking in my liberal world, so many gains I thought unassailable. I didn’t see it coming. My eyes were filled with tears of joy for me, for my “other identified” friends and loved ones. Where was I? I was in Washington D.C. which finally felt safe. I was in the corners of this Rebublic where I finally felt safe.

Will I be able to sift through all this information? Will I be able to know what is true from what isn’t?

Luckily for me I subscribe to a Buddhist newsletter – unluckily for me, even after way over three decades of adherence to this philosophy, I find it nearly impossible to implement – easily.

OK, so nothing’s easy. I get that. I really get that now! Here, for instance, is advice under the heading, “There Is No Blame.”

OK, right there I’m behind, not up to speed on this one. All I’ve been looking for is who and what to blame! “There are no human enemies,” says Sylvia Boorstein, “only confused people needing help.”

I couldn’t agree more – about the needing help bit. And the confused, ignorant people. Exactly how I see it, yes.

I listened to Van Jones express his fear of the people who voted for the president-elect. He said he was afraid of his supporters, not those who voted for him – he might agree with me that they are the confused needing help. No, he said, it is the people who support him in his daily tweets/life, the ones who give him policy ideas and recommendations for cabinet members.

It’s hard to think about the powerful having more power and easy for me to fall into the well of complicity in thinking I have no power to help the earth hold us all better. I have as much power as I ever did, it is there for me to take when I get through my distractions.

Blame, anger and despair are my chief distractions now and I look at them as resistance to action, excuses, if you will. The seduction of finding and assigning fault feeds the Ouroboros of my anger. Taking Sylvia’s lead – reading her article to the end – I leave you with a quote.

—“the familiar image of an infant left in a basket on a doorstep with a note pinned to its blanket: “Please take care of me.” The natural impulse, for all of us, would be to pick the baby up, to care for it. I try to think about the world as an abandoned baby, left in dire straits by parents who could not care for it well. Could we be the benevolent agents who pick it up and, without blaming, take care of it?”

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LET’S GET REAL

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not change the world of the black men and women – the grandparents of the men dying today and yesterday and the day before – who were alive in that year. But it did put the possibility of equal rights in our minds if not our hearts.
In 1963 I was traveling with my husband and four month old baby daughter across a vicious ice storm in the Oklahoma panhandle. We were freezing cold in the night of slanting sheets of ice, our VW Bus only heated with acceleration and we were hardly making any headway to bring on the heat.
Kennedy had just been assassinated and nothing felt sure or clear in our young lives. We were heading to Monterrey California to the Army Language School where my husband would learn French and probably be sent to Vietnam. (He ended up not going to Viet Nam – in its wisdom the army sent him to Germany because he already spoke German fluently.)
We saw in the storm ahead a glowing motel sign, it was late, our daughter was crying, we were bone tired after driving since four that morning. We walked into the office, there was a black couple ahead of us. The man behind the counter told them there were no more rooms. I pulled my husband’s sleeve. “Let’s go,” I said. He said, “wait,” without looking at me. I hesitated and stayed behind while he went to the counter. The man smiled, “last room, sir,” he said.
I wish I could say that I got the other couple and we shared the room but they were gone and I was shocked into numbness. In that moment I didn’t understand. I looked at my husband and was about to say something like, “but I thought they had no room.” Maybe I did, I don’t know. I only know my own confusion, my distaste for the experience and my wish for change.
There are thousands like me, who want change and who have ideals about how “things could be better.” But the walls I ran into, run into are like the ones from my childhood where I had to sit through movies like The Robe and others of that genre, scared, in a seat alone because the people who brought me could not sit with me. They were taking me on their days off because my parents were neglectful but they could not take care of me by sharing my space – or me sharing theirs. It would take me years to figure that out by myself, nothing was ever said and now I know they could have gotten arrested if someone had noticed. I’m glad children were not “seen or heard” while I was growing up.
This has not gone away.
Yes, there is progress, but the opportunities of the races are not the same, not even close. You know it and I know it. The difference between 1963 with no Civil Rights Act and after its signature in 1964 and years following, was none. Twenty years, thirty, forty – the motel manager – depending on where it was located – probably wouldn’t have gotten away with what he did. But I am very cynical about what people can get away with. The disadvantaged are targeted at the same rate they were when I was growing up, the banks, the realtors, the school districts are little different. How could we have so much “no change” if things were actually enforced? Why would we still need busing if we have equalized our neighborhoods? We haven’t equalized anything. We are awash with bullets now, then we had ropes and we still have the attitudes of the men, and the women behind them, in white sheets holding their ideas, their customs, their entitlements as shield and sword for their intolerant righteousness.
We need better. Too long have we looked upon most of what we see around us as “other.” Whether an animal or a tree or the earth itself, we think, doesn’t have sensations, feelings, intelligence.
Do yourself a favor, don’t name. It’s the first step in separation. We know enough now to have discovered that there exists communication – communion – all around us. Look for communion. Take it when you feel it. Let your nascent or sophisticated vision of your universe expand. Expand with it.
John Muir said, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he[sic] finds it attached to the rest of the world.” And don’t be looking to be right or smart, Muir walked through miles and acres of American Native cultivation thinking it was “wild” land. It was, we all have different ways to cultivate. Get to know yours.
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Take A Breath

“If you really could take away the suffering of all the people in the world, taking all of it into you with a single breath, would you hesitate?”

Is that fair? Couldn’t you just donate a few dollars to CARE and have that be enough? Could whatever you are doing now count?
In speaking with clients I get that many of us are overwhelmed and generally feel disenfranchised from feeling helpful when we see something happening in the world we really care about.
So, when someone asks for help, then what? Do we give? Do we feel vulnerable? Maybe they will keep asking and asking. Maybe it will all get out of control. Maybe. Maybe.
Yesterday I was at an outdoor festival sitting with friends. A man my friends knew came up to us – he was going up to everyone – and gave us a slip of paper he’d printed to get help transporting people out West to help with a demonstration/confrontation on Native American land. We gave and it gave us a chance to do something helpful for a situation in which we all felt invested.
I felt elated. How often do I get to do something to help a cause I care deeply about. I’m guessing that’s the popularity of the “crowd funded” participation. It’s effective and we can all lend a hand.
Lending a hand is, I think, our basic nature. It is a source of power for us to see our effectiveness or lack of it.
This sounds decidedly like a transaction. If I feel good, I will be good. If I feel in control, I will be nice to you. If I feel out of control, I won’t.
Sound familiar? Kind of homey, isn’t it? Remember when mom or dad had a bad day and came home to kick the dog – or you? Or had to be alone or had to have a drink or had to do something because.
Small moments of altruism can have a big effect on both giver and givee. I certainly feel better today for my participation, however small, in a larger effort. I love giving small amounts of time and money to join a group of like-minded people.
How are you relating to your altruistic self? Have you updated your version of you? Are you willing to take a breath?
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Death, Taxes and Rebirth

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Is a real life perfect? Is your life perfect? Is your life real?

There is no way to know where you will see the most beauty in your life, or have the most profound experience. Battlefields and graveyards are as full of enlightening and profound, happy and beautiful life experience as the playground or, for those of us who love equines, the paddock.

When we are looking around for a life to live we often look to books. When I was a child I read every biography of every famous person I could find. My school had a series of orange-bound books to inspire young readers. They told the lives of inventors, orators, presidents, nurses and many more. I learned so much and could see myself and feel the passion stirring in myself so clearly. I wanted greatness, I wanted to make a difference. And I wanted to be different. These books helped me choose how to be different and make a difference.

That was in grade school. In high school I learned to swallow my pride, to be ridiculed and sometimes to be seen. Being seen was the thing I most wanted and most feared. I wanted to pick and choose, to have total control over other’s opinions of me. It would take a while for me to see that no one had control over opinions of anyone, even the ones we carried inside. We were all reading a script of what was acceptable and what was not and our comfort in our lives reflected our ability to be ourself and what that meant in our wider world.

It amazes me to think of what I felt in second grade. How I saw my world and choices opening up. I felt there was so much room for me, so much passion and verve and I would be able to be so forceful in my life.

In third grade our teacher started to bring the world in which we lived into the classroom. The newspaper was brought in. We read about current events. We were never asked to think about them much. We were told about choices we might have and we were shown what was going on beyond our familiar walls and walkways.

I felt as if my brain were being recreated from a passionate idealist to a pragmatic realist who would be molding myself to the task at hand, not creating that task. It has been a big slow leap to embrace a life that has much promise and much pragmatism.

When making a change, the change has to fit in where we are. Going from nothing to something or something to nothing happens, but for most of us the path is slow and takes its time. Even when change looks fast, it is often because we haven’t been aware of the steps.

Change is recognized and happens first in one place: our mind. Our mind is the body’s expression of our experience. Habits and personality make up our experience. The story that we tell about ourselves creates our personality and is our main influence in how we live our life.

There is no such thing as “hard-wired” when we speak of the brain. Our brain is 75% water and the consistency, in most of its structures, of a soft-boiled egg. In this blubbery environment there are over 100 billion nerve cells, neurons, wonderfully arranged and suspended and ready to be at our beck and call.

It’s easy to change the brain, it changes all the time. Unless, of course, you do the same things all the time. Tell the same story. Sleep the same way at the same time, function hurriedly through your hour, day, month, year – your life. Without changing anything you will not change – unless the world changes you, which it is prone to do.

Then what do you do? A cry for help is a good start. Back to the books you read in second grade, good too. Get someone to help you stick to what you want to do for yourself or help you find the goals you want and the will to achieve them.

Your brain is capable of processing enormous quantities of data. You have more RAM sitting in your brain waiting for your use that in any computer you couldn’t possibly afford and isn’t made anyway. There is nothing so flexible as your lovely brain, so willing and able to do the work for you.

What does it take to turn it on? What does it take to change your life for the best? Keep the good and pare away the not-so-great parts? A few new habits acted on with the passion of a second grader. Every start is a new beginning, nothing can’t be made better. Every neuron in your brain is ready and waiting for new paths to open up. Give it something to do, start the next moment of your life.

A Word From My Teacher

As I sit in the midst of boxes for moving (not too far – 20 minutes south, to Kent) I receive a newsletter from my teacher Narayan with whom I have sat many a retreat.
She is somewhat younger but when I first met her fresh, always robed in white, aspect I realized she is peer to all. She spoke of staring at a candle in her bedroom when she was twelve – driving her parents mad. She spoke of what she saw in the world and what seemed, from my point of view, she knew without experience. Some are like that and the rest of us, more like me, paddle the streams of experience – whitewater rapids to backwater sloughs – with and without grace, but paddle firmly in hand.
I share this with you now and in my practice (life – whatever you call it – the living of life) there is a deepening, a tangy spritzy pungent scent to the life I’m living. I feel older and more permeable, more focused, enjoying the ride.

Here’s Narayan:
Practice Over Time

by Guiding Teacher Narayan Liebenson

The forms of practice sometimes need to shift over a lifetime, but the essence of practice can burn even brighter as we come fact to face with the fathomless treasures of old age, sickness, and impending death. These are the most human of experiences. As you lose everything without choosing to, and accept the natural limitations of this body-mind experience, it becomes ever more possible to live with greater love and wonder and with less clinging and attachment. This is the sign of a true contemplative, not just a person who can sit endlessly on a cushion.

It is easy to get lost in concepts of time and age, believing in conventional messages that encourage a reverence for youth and a fear of death. However, older people with a lifelong practice are the lights of a sangha. Some older yogis have been practicing for decades, giving them the chance to meet physical and mental limitations from a completely different perspective than the ordinary one.

A rich arena of investigation is to ask whether one’s practice has to weaken with age. In times of change, there is often a sense of loss as well. In opening and allowing the grief that accompanies loss, a deeper dignity can emerge. What are our ideas and concepts about what practice is and what it means? Is practice something separate from the rest of our lives? Is it possible to open our hearts to things as they are, whatever way they are?

There is experience, and there is, as well, one’s relationship to experience. The awareness of this relationship is what makes all the difference in the world. With an orientation of openness and acceptance, we are alive to life itself and come to see that it was never ours to control. In this way, we deepen our understanding of patience, surrender, and grace.

Older yogis with a lifelong practice have a wisdom that is hard won. They are the visible signs of the humanness of life as well as the possibility of transcendence. We practice for others as well as ourselves; older practitioners need more commitment and diligence than ever before as they age.

Whatever posture you now need to support your practice is the best posture. This is the time to adjust your practice in a way that works for you. I encourage you to practice with an open mind, free from expectations, and to embrace without compromise the aspiration to awaken.

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Hidden in Plain Sight

In the garden the other evening I was watering our perennials and by my elbow these large bushes of tiny flowers seemed to look fuzzy. I thought (of course) immediately of Elvis’ song “Itching like a bear on a fuzzy tree,” which had bothered me for years as, until that moment, I thought I had never encountered a fuzzy tree – or bush. There before my eyes was a fuzzy bush!
I couldn’t really see what I was looking at so I got my trusty 100mm micro lens and when I looked through the viewfinder there was a world as close as could be and I had had no sense of its presence until I focused a ton of technology at it.
I have no idea what they were doing – they weren’t eating, I could tell that, and I didn’t drive to the nearest extension service and ask – although I did that once with slime mold and thus began a whole new chapter of my life.
So, I offer this to you, never ever ( I know you never do) assume “nothing” is there. Ever since the Big Bang there has been somethingness for us – before that nothingness ruled – there was even nothing nothingness – but that’s another story, after I tell you about slime mold. (which takes forever)
I love summer – it fairly whirrs with somethingness – be well and love insects.

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The Messenger

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My photo is just one of the many items named “The Messenger.” In my experience the concept of the messenger – as in don’t shoot – is the most consistently salient theme encountered. I was the messenger in my family – there were others before me – I don’t know if that’s why not many of them speak to me. I don’t know because they don’t say. There is no message.
Pema Chodron states that.. “feelings like disappointment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us whenever we are.”

Who do you listen to. What are you looking for? Do you see anything? Do you hear the messenger? Are you listening?

And, to make my point, this photo is the most consistently bought and used – program covers, magazines, set designs, in all sizes – that I have ever produced.

The Give Away

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What we create with another Being is not ours to give away.
While looking at a photo of two people I know intimately, I was struck suddenly by what the photo did not show.
It did not, could not depict, their years together. How they met, what they feel like now – yes, what they really feel like – which may not be the smiles shown for the taker of the photo, who is also not in the photo but is very much there.
No children or other travels, houses, books, sex, honesty, lunches or breakfasts are depicted. No loving or nasty moments, no clutching or letting go.
We take them as they are this moment photographed by the person we don’t know, in their lives or not, past and future not here. Only the moment. This moment. This one important moment. And if this photo gets into an album and if the album is shared and seen by present company and future grandchildren and further on, they will think they got something. They will think they know something.
And they will. They will know this moment. And they will make of it what they will in their moment. And nothing will be given away, it will be taken.

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Liam Three Months Out

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You can tell me that grieving takes its own sweet time. I’ll tell you its not necessarily sweet, although its not always sad and wrenching. And that it pulses. Sometimes I feel like my food processor – lots of stuff put in and I’m supposed to turn on and find what to do with it. Find the correct blade and carry on.

As I write this my dogs have set up a howl. And I have joined them. Writing can only get you so far. Howling will do the rest. The greyhounds have a keening sound, high and deep in the throat. They sound when I’m not joining up properly. Now, as I’m writing, and even though my door is open, they know my mind is elsewhere. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find their minds filled with Liam. Images of him are rampant. Not just because he was a favorite subject for me but he was in all our faces – literally. Jules could never even start to walk out the door without Liam attached to his face in some very noisy way. He is downstairs as I write moaning and whining. He will not come up the stairs. When I “bring” him up, he might stay a minute but, unless I close a door or gate, he runs down to his bed. He is a simple, complicated dog.

Liam was straightforward, upfront, in your face. He could be subtle, I loved his tame look when he was abashed and wanted to be with me but wasn’t sure he could go – mostly he could. And, unlike most JRTs he would do what I asked even if he didn’t want to. He had another look for that. In all he was a dog of many natures, many gifts. There wasn’t a person who didn’t want his/her hands on Liam. I have many photos like the one above with everyone reaching toward him as they interacted together. He was always within reach.

I wish he was still.
Jules just came in and lay down.