Isolation Journal: Week Four (I think that’s right…maybe….)

Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing.
We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem,
but the truth is that things don’t really get solved.
They come together and they fall apart.
Then they come together again and fall apart again.
It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room
for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.

– Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart

Things do seem to have fallen apart and there is still room to fall some more. We feel like we’re on one of those elevators that begins to fall, stops, then falls some more and stops again. We don’t know if we’re at the bottom yet. I look around at this precarious juncture, feel terrified, and think, “Maybe it’s time for a cup of coffee” or “Time for another Hallmark movie or Britcom.”

Often, during this roller coaster ride (yes, mixing metaphors is allowed during lockdowns) it is easier to distract oneself, to find tiny avenues of comfort (coffee, movies, blankets, showers, food, walking) rather than to stop, sit still, and take in this moment’s reality. This week, with the support of some of my favorite people* – online and by telephone – I’ve had the opportunity to sit still and take in the moment. Despite my internal resistance and intense addiction to distraction right now, I’ve had moments of collective stillness and illumination with these folks, moments of deep peace.

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from Sufi Scribe, Facebook

On this day, there is global heaviness unrelated to the pandemic – it is both Good Friday and the third evening of Passover. Humans will take themselves through very painful memories concerning suffering, human failings and cruelty, and will recall those few women and men who found a way to be compassionate and present even during such times.

Moments of illumination, where we can find them, help us to shake off the cosmic heaviness and the “briefings,” “summaries” and alerts coming through the news media. One part of us takes in the data, the news, while the moments of stillness, acceptance, groundedness, and turning toward the Sacred help us to take in something else.

This morning the Friday Summary that popped up in my email was very grim – illness, death tolls, lack of resources, potential food shortages, economic meltdown, political stalemate and so on. As I took my shower following that mental jolt, the phrase that popped into my head was from Byron Katie’s “Four Questions” – “Can you absolutely know that it’s True?”

Katie points to the same reality as Pema Chodron – but she arrives there using a different set of tools. Katie suggests that you identify your stressful thoughts using her “Judge your neighbor” worksheet. Once you’ve written out your fears, stressors, and bald faced complaints, you apply the four questions to what you’ve written. The first question: “Is it true?” The second question sometimes brings one up short, “Can you absolutely know that it’s true?”

For example: If I write, “The world is falling apart. Everything is horrible.” Is it true? Yes. From my perspective, this is true and the news says it’s true. But can I absolutely know it is true? Hmmm…. Well…I suppose not. People are being extraordinarily heroic, sharing resources, sharing their lives and livelihoods. The earth and its creatures are having a IMG-0376hay day. Mountaintops are visible, waters are running more clear. Goats, deer, and sheep (even javelinas) are romping through towns unobstructed by traffic. And actually, now that I think of it and look around, it is a sunny day, flowers are blooming, I have fresh water to drink, I have adequate food, I have shelter, I even have enough TP for the next week or so – and chocolate. So, maybe I can’t absolutely say it is true that everything is horrible. (There are two more questions and interesting turnarounds on the worksheet. Check it out.)

But for the time it took us to write this stuff down, to apply the questions and sit with them, we have held our fears and faced them. We’ve looked at them from one side and another. And we’ve come out in another place. Even in much more dire circumstances, there is some miraculous transformation which can take place as one applies these questions – to any and all situations.

Pema Chodron writes:

“Fear is a universal experience. Even the smallest insect feels it. We wade in the tidal pools and put our finger near the soft, open bodies of sea anemones and they close up. Everything spontaneously does that. It’s not a terrible thing that we feel fear when faced with the unknown. It is part of being alive, something we all share. We react against the possibility of loneliness, of death, of not having anything to hold on to. Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.
“If we commit ourselves to staying right where we are, then our experience becomes very vivid. Things become very clear when there is nowhere to escape.”

So, my summary of Week Four of my journal is that:

  • I’ve had moments of mindlessness – distraction to the point of forgetting which way I was going and why more than once (I also found my measuring tape in a most unlikely place).
  • I’ve had some very low moments of grief. The overwhelming death toll numbers in New York City, illness numbers here in the Navaho Nation, and the death of John Prine was an individual low point – he has been one of the sensitive and accurate narrators of life during my time – and I have just always liked his melodies, humility, hope, humor and grit.
  • IMG-0335I’ve had irrational fears (Do I feel odd? Am I getting sick? Did I remember to bleach the door handle after I washed and bathed the groceries?) including a dream about bugs and worms getting into the house, the food.
  • And I’ve had moments of joy – phone calls from grandkids, kids, friends, and walks with Johnny. I’ve even had some moments of enlightenment – thanks to my favorite shamans, gurus, ministers, and friends.

Several years ago, when I was really grieving and struggling with my sister’s cancer, my daughter sent me this quote from Pema:

Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation
can that which is indestructible be found in us.

I cried and cried and was deeply comforted by this truth. We can’t get to the core of things by floating around carefree. We find the indestructible connection, we find the eternal by coming face to face with our own impermanence.

As a collective, we have the opportunity to face this together. I am so grateful for taking this journey with all of you.

Love,
Karen

P.S. Another unlikely “winner” we’ve noticed during all of this. Trampoline sales appear to be skyrocketing.

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* Some favorites this week (in no particular order):

Contemplative Monk on Facebook (Bob Holmes)

The Four Winds Society (Alberto Villodo) on Facebook – livestream shaman updates

-The Psychology Babes on Facebook

Rumi, Saadi, Hafiz (Poems & Quotes) on Facebook

Netoflight.org (website)and Facebook (Sharon McErlane) – have enjoyed livestream events

To be or not to be “Church”

“Human beings may separate things into as many piles as we wish—separating spirit from flesh, sacred from secular, church from world. But we should not be surprised when God does not recognize the distinctions we make between the two. Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars.”
― Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith

Barbara & Karen work on Solstice mandalaWhen I was frustrated with my own lack of spiritual “progress” or evidence of growth, a wise guide said to me, “The longing you have is very important – as important as anything. Longing is good.” I have pondered this statement on and off for a year somewhere in the back of my mind.

My version of spring fever – in a climate where we don’t really get lots of new growth until mid-May or June – is spring yearning. I want, I NEED green. I need water, rain, lightening, humidity. All of the stuff that is marketed at Eastertime. Somewhere deep in my soul, I need to see a green shoot pushing up through soft earth and raindrops or dewdrops adorning the leaves, the petals. I think of ocean, fog, daffodils, tulips, almond groves. I know this stuff is out there. This is the curse of growing up in California and relocating. The body knows, the visceral memory knows: Somewhere it is spring.

When I lived in California, though, I had the same condition all times of the year. The yearning, longing for what is not quite here. Often, in some vague form, I’d be wanting connection with others, with community. In my little Central Valley home, I eventually found my Tribes. I found a church that welcomed my quirkiness. I found my sisters and brothers of the Yoga Tribe who provided weekly, sometimes bi- and tri-weekly conversation and connection. In Berkeley, I met my spiritually-questing-Tribe. Such a time! Yearning for community fulfilled!

And then we moved.

I’ve been back in yearning mode much of the time since. But the guidance I received_ACT6304 about “longing being good” turns out to have contained an unexpected wisdom. Longing turns out to be a finely honed navigational system. It overrides the mind’s chatter.

I had begun to craft a spiritual home outside of my long-beloved church, after I left my last ministry position. The other tribes I joined fit me to a “T” for that moment and place. It was a time of expansion and reunion with an even wider spiritual circle.

But after my sister passed away, in the process of grieving, I found myself longing – and actively seeking a spiritual home. I tried everything. Then John and I went to a Railroad History presentation at a small local church. There was absolutely no spiritual content or setting to the event. The talk was to be held in a less-than-beautiful, humble Fellowship Hall in a rural church. But the church members (unbeknownst to us) were offering a soup dinner before the presentation to anyone who wanted it.

I walked through the door and felt as Lucy must have felt when she passed through that wardrobe full of coats into Narnia. It bowled me over. This earthy crowd, this less than mystical group, was family. My husband didn’t want food, but by all that’s holy, I was bound and determined to eat a bowl of that soup – and did so. Heavenly.

After all of that joy, I still didn’t settle on that particular congregation. But – it being a Saturday – as soon as I got home, I looked for a church in that same town. I found the funkiest, most humble little church you can imagine. Its webpage said, “All are welcome. No exceptions.” The next morning, I drove about 8 miles up the highway. Inside, I found a warm welcome – open hearts, open minds (as the saying goes). Home.

My brain has kicked in numerous times since then. “But these people don’t get me.” “I need an Interfaith Tribe of journeyers.” It goes on and on. They don’t use the right hymnal. They use a hymnal. They don’t use the right language about God. They don’t wipe the tables right after coffee hour. They’ve had a lot of problems. I don’t know if there is anything for me to do here. There is way too much to do here.

I’m not sure if this is a church for webcasts or live feed, but perhaps that is why it feels like home. It is cozy and real.

IMG_5680They know how to host an awesome potluck. They show up at Marches and celebrate Pride. With a ragtag group, they know how to make lovely music. They know how to hold each other in prayer and love when times get hard. They forget social niceties, but love children to a fault. As humans go, our fearless leader is as kind and compassionate as I’ve ever known.

Hmmmmm. Not my Tribe? The tribe members call this place home because they love God and Jesus, love their neighbors, they love the mountains, the trees, the earth and they’re fiercely independent. They seek to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.

Sometimes, I think, my many requirements for personhood – and “how to be a good human being” or an authentic spiritual explorer get in the way of connecting. My husband never talks about it, but I know he observes me out there on my perfectionistic quest to find a truly holy Sangha. I don’t think he understands the importance of the high bar I set. (Ha!)

The day I walked into this place, I knew he’d like it. No façade. No airs.

There is this other thing, too. The “spiritual but not religious” voice in me. The part that sees that Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, loving Muslims, Sikhs, Wiccans, Native People, other New Agers – they are generally not the ones out there shouting hateful, racist, woman-hating, immigrant-hating, abusive stuff in our country these days. No, those screaming, fearful ones are my peeps. Those are the voices of Christians. Even though I love Church in a big, deep way, and love Jesus in a bigger, deeper way, there is a longing to be clearly Other than my fellow Christians who don’t have a clue what Jesus was up to (or so it seems from my totally non-judgmental vantage point). It’s easier to feel good about being part of a tribe versus part of a church.

Unfortunately, for those who do have a clue what Jesus was doing, we oh-so-enlightened  (and self proclaimed) ones don’t get to draw that line. We don’t get to be Other. We have to stay in the same boat and figure out how to get along and love folks. Even those who sound so very hateful and who support a guy who…well…it doesn’t really matter. We’ve got to get back to the drawing board and figure out how in the world to love that guy, too. We have to get ourselves ready for understanding to break through between us – for compassion and wisdom to light the way to embracing each other again. (I’m not sure we ever did get there in the past, but it was easier to imagine it – to get glimpses of it anyway.)

We do have to keep longing for Truth and putting ourselves on the line for the well-being of the vulnerable. We have to insist, with love, that all of God’s children are welcome and treated justly.  Luckily, we have little homes, tribes, covens, congregations and sanghas to yearn with us and support us in this effort.

After all of my wandering – and my highly creative Bay Area and south Minneapolis leanings – I thought my Home or my Tribe was going to be way cooler. It was gonna be frickin’ awesome. I thought it would be fancier, more polished, or at least more Feng Shui. For sure, I assumed there would be organic and vegan options. But I guess that’s not what I was really longing for. Here I am: A happy wanderer, home at last.

There is a labyrinth out there behind the weeds, after all. And we do have free-range chicken and duck eggs, and gluten-free options.

Y’all come visit. You’ll be most welcome.

Wichita 2017

Crazy, Gritty Good

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Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures….
– Antonio Machado, c.1939

 

I feel less like a sweet, old grandmother and more like a gritty, scrappy person who is finally mellowing – wizening perhaps – as she matures. I find that I’ve never been one who generally “fits in.” I’ve tended to struggle – with myself and others in creative ways. The places of true community and belonging have been few and far between – but when I’ve found my Tribe members it has been pure joy.

There have been many people to love though – folks of all kinds, at all stages of life, and from all classes and cultures. My deepest bonding has been with others who, for a wide variety of reasons, were engaged in their own struggles. I’ve never known how to fully relate to those who have it together and are cruising through life – I gravitate toward my fellow travelers inhabiting the dimension of “still dealing with stuff.” These affinities may arise from my early years of sitting in smoke-filled rooms with coffee in hand, discussing things like recovery and codependency – not a culture of putting on airs around those tables.

These days, I’m still loving gritty, down-to-Earthers, but now I’m also gravitating toward those who find themselves moving through various stages of spiritual transformation. My “people” these days are a little out there. As my aunt commented to me recently, “You are indeed your father’s daughter.” I think that was her way of saying that my dad got a little “out there” after years of a more traditional journey, too – yoga, Esalen, Alan Watts, Alpert and Leary, Maslow, DeRopp, Gurdjieff, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism were the positive influences of those days (the mind-altering substances and other addictions were ultimately the negative). But my aunt is correct, I’ve kind of come full circle in some ways.

I’m finding that some of the wild and crazy teachings of my childhood were true…and then some. My mom always claimed that Dad was “ahead of his time.” Yes, he was…and a little nuts. But he would be the first to admit that from whatever other-worldly perch he inhabits these days. My mom was the one who discussed all of these teachings and concepts with me over breakfast from ninth grade on. It is no wonder I didn’t fit too well with my rural Minnesota peer group when we moved there from the Bay Area!

Instead, they taught me Transcendental Meditation and hooked me up to biofeedback. They filled me full of stories about people they met and saw on film at the Menninger Foundation – meditators, shamans, faith healers, physicists, who demonstrated vividly and compellingly that what we know in this three-dimensional plane doesn’t explain everything. There is more – much more – than we see or comprehend going on out there and “in here.” My parents gave me a lot to contemplate and consider alongside the apparent dysfunction and frequent crises in my family. So there was plenty of grist for the mill – spiritually, emotionally.

Fast forward thirty or so years and we arrive at today, where I’m finally coming to the conclusion that it is all good – the way-out philosophies and the family dysfunction, the mountain top experiences and the tragedies…good, good, good. Obviously, I’m jumping over a few steps – giving you the Reader’s Digest version of it all – but I love the full-circleness of things.

I spent many years sorting things into baskets of good and bad, healthy and unhealthy. The process I’m experiencing now takes all of it in one giant basket – or maybe one giant kettle – and puts it together with a recipe of love, forgiveness, gratitude, joy. Strangely enough, the sacred process of loving transforms all of life’s experiences. To my great surprise all of it turns out to be good, good, good. Crazy, gritty Good.


Comments?

 

Sacred Training Ground(lessness)

“Our discomfort arises from all of our efforts to put ground under our feet,
to realize our dream of constant okayness….
But when…we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation
and relax into its dynamic quality, that’s called enlightenment….”  

– Pema Chodron

For many years, whenever my household had a financial surplus for a moment, it seemed a law of the universe that a car would break down and use it up. It didn’t seem fair at times, when friends’ lives appeared to be much more abundant. They took vacations, they celebrated special occasions in style. The benefit, however, was that this “life close to the edge” kept me always returning to my Source for comfort.

In those days, we named our Source our “Higher Power” and we found solace, guidance, strength, and peace each time we humbly returned to this spiritual well. Sometimes we found our Source in prayer and meditation, oftentimes we found these things in the words of other people – while they lovingly advised us or as they told of their own pain, struggle, or joy.

A belief that I lived by then was to “live simply.” This elevated my lack of abundance to a more spiritual simplicity – though I was never tempted to embrace the concept of “voluntary poverty.” I was fairly certain that abundance had its place, too, alongside simplicity.

Anyway, these days in a similar pattern, I’m recognizing that each time I reach a place in which it feels like I’ve finally integrated a spiritual concept that I’ve been struggling with for years, life seems to offer a challenge to put our integrity and groundedness to the test.

In the world of “manifesting” what we focus upon, I hope I’m not somehow calling for these challenges. If so, it is time to figure that one out – and soon!

No sooner do I have the sense of “Wow! I finally understand this!” that in the next breath the challenge appears. I guess if life is really and truly our spiritual training ground, this could make sense (though it seems kind of brutal!)

Pema Chodron print Etsy
Rebecca Borrelli, artist

In the midst of our most recent crisis, on an evening in which I felt my foundation shaking, my loving daughter sent my husband some encouraging notes. The last image she sent was beautiful – like a lovely Zen tangle. I zoomed in to read the words that encircled an image of waves crashing within a turbulent sea. It read, “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.” Tears of recognition rimmed my eyes.

I read it again. This simple statement from wise woman, Pema Chodron, calmed and centered me. It reminded me that when overwhelming challenges arise, though they blow us off course and tear everything apart, they help us to grow. Though we would never knowingly wish for such chaos, they raise before us the possibility that maybe the goal is not to “have it all together.” Perhaps the goal is, when we are a shaken to pieces, to learn how to lovingly hold each tiny shard that’s been tossed, turned, broken, and tossed again. Perhaps it is also to recognize the calm, unmoving center in the storm.

So my daily practice, as we walk through this turbulent landscape together, is to ask: “Which places within need the most love and care today? And how shall I hold and honor them today – in myself and in my fellow journeyers?” In stillness, the answers arise for the moment.

Sigh. It is really pretty basic, isn’t it? And then I laugh at how complicated I make it.