Category Archives: sacred

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

All hands on deck…

I awoke this morning with these words of wisdom from Clarissa Pinkola Estes on my mind. It is good to re-read them and soak in the reminder:

My friends, do not lose heart. We were made for these times. I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world now. Ours is a time of almost daily astonishment and often righteous rage over the latest degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary people.

You are right in your assessments. The lustre and hubris some have aspired to while endorsing acts so heinous against children, elders, everyday people, the poor, the unguarded, the helpless, is breathtaking. Yet, I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is that we were made for these times. Yes. For years, we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement.

pexels-photo-1118874I grew up on the Great Lakes and recognize a seaworthy vessel when I see one. Regarding awakened souls, there have never been more able vessels in the waters than there are right now across the world. And they are fully provisioned and able to signal one another as never before in the history of humankind.

Look out over the prow; there are millions of boats of righteous souls on the waters with you. Even though your veneers may shiver from every wave in this stormy roil, I assure you that the long timbers composing your prow and rudder come from a greater forest. That long-grained lumber is known to withstand storms, to hold together, to hold its own, and to advance, regardless.

In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much is wrong or unmended in the world. Do not focus on that. There is a tendency, too, to fall into being weakened by dwelling on what is outside your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there. That is spending the wind without raising the sails.

This is such an important bit of wisdom. Estes goes on to say that we must each do what is in front of us to contribute, to share our light in our tiny corner of the world. I remember words from Mother Teresa, Abraham Heschel, Julian of Norwich, Martin Luther King, Jr. and others that would reinforce this. We are not required to solve the world’s problems, but neither are we encouraged to simply give up and remove ourselves completely from responsibility for our small corner of the world.

In these odd days of COVID-19, toilet paper and hand-sanitizer hoarding, and self-isolating, social-distancing, what can we do for one another?

The average person can:

  • be responsible about not sharing or spreading our germs (hand-washing, covering coughs and sneezes, etc., etc.)
  • be loving and caring in our encounters with strangers (service workers, delivery people, grocery clerks, the neighbors we distance ourselves from)
  • send money to those we would typically support – yoga teachers, churches, other charitable organizations and step up our giving to food shelves, shelters, and other organizations like the Red Cross or Salvation Army who will have greater expenses in delivering services right now
  • check on friends and family and offer encouragement and support; help problem-solve or take on a needed task
  • entertain children virtually via Skype, FaceTime, etc., so that their caregivers can take a break or send crafts, books, etc. for their enjoyment.

Another way we can contribute is by:

  • Taking care of our physical and spiritual wellness – continue to meditate and pray; eat as healthily as you can during a time of scarcity; walk, exercise, stretch, do yoga; keep your environment bright, peaceful, and clean
  • Listen to music, be creative, write words of encouragement – for yourself and others, send love to yourself by living with self-compassion
  • Forgive yourself and others as needed, pick yourself up and move on with a fresh start
  • Keep a sense of humor – laugh as much as you can
  • Limit the alcohol, food excess and other substance reliance and focus on connecting with your Source and other people who share concern and provide inspiration for your highest good
  • Share love, love love – for yourself, for family, for neighbor, for strangers. Keep your lamps burning, sisters & brothers
  • Be grateful for the smallest moments of beauty, light, joy, safety, calm
  • Breathe

Pinkola Estes concludes:

One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.

Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.

All aboard, friends. Let’s get those vessels out on the metaphorical sea and share our light as brightly and broadly as we can.

Wherever you are... Rumi

 

New Year’s Blessing

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting; the Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting and cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness, and not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come…

William Wordsworth, c. 1804

This week I had the opportunity to share the gifts of my spiritual journey with my husband and a good friend. We had both deeply spiritual and highly irreverent conversations. We touched on our deepest difficulties and hurts and we laughed until our sides hurt about our current lives and all that confounds us in this world.

Now, it is New Year’s Day. I’m remembering that we are not here to conquer or control life. We are here to open our eyes – to heighten our senses – and be present. If we pay attention, we will witness a series of miracles and moments of grace – of extraordinary moments in a sea of confusingly ordinary and sometimes overwhelming ones. That’s my experience, anyway. Whenever I feel that I have things figured out, the cosmos stirs things up and turns the world upside down, just to keep the process interesting. Laughter and a sense of humor are as essential, as is the ability to ride the ever-changing waves.

At midnight last night, after a quiet evening at home, I came upstairs and discovered my new year’s gift. The moon was shining bright and it had snowed about an eighth of an inch of big elegant flakes – enough to cover our deck and the fields below. The moon reflected like diamonds, making each surface sparkle with light. If you have eyes to see, ears to hear, and a soul that senses – our Source is seeking our awareness.

Let’s see if this year sparkles with that same promise as it continues to unfold. Let’s tell each other about the miracles we experience. Let’s laugh and cry and hold each other in our grief. And in the midst of all that, let’s find out if it is possible to stand in awe and soak in gratitude each and every day.

Valley clouds

The “Other” Way Counts

I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.

                                   – Walt Whitman

The words of the poem, above, were printed on a poster that hung on my wall during high school. I think they were somehow emblazoned on my teenage soul, too, and have stayed with me.

I have so many friends and relatives who, in one way or another, deal with being “other” everywhere they go. They don’t quite fit. They don’t have a traditional career or any career. They are retired, but they don’t fit with the bridge group or the church circle. They are part of a spiritual tradition, but they don’t feel comfortable. They are not part of any spiritual tradition, but they know there is something more to life than what meets the eye, something deeper.

It isn’t a coincidence that my fellow sangha member, family members, classmates, acquaintances, and neighbors fall in this category. So do I. My life has been a richly woven tapestry – its patterns and circuitous routes often seeming without a unifying scheme. Good and bad, up and down, try this, now that, and so on. But as this website indicates, there is a common thread that runs through it all. I call that thread my spiritual path.

These days, I am integrating all kinds of things that I have learned from all kinds of places. I see the golden thread between traditions and non-traditions sparkling like crazy. One friend calls this “energy.” Yes. That’s it. Another friend calls this “God,” another “Vibration,” and another “Goddess.” Yes. Yes. Yes. Another says it is silence, mystery. One of my less spiritually-oriented friends calls it health and fitness, another “art.” Many call it nature. A teacher calls it the landscape of our dreams.

Each of these people is sorting out what it means to live in such a way that his or her life is in harmony with a higher purpose. They have each tried the traditional path and often it didn’t work, or some part of it doesn’t work. They were miserable. I say, “Yay, misery!” Very often it is a gift that sends us in our new direction.

Sequoia hikeYesterday, I was part of a discussion in which a room full of people shared this sense of “social dis-harmony” – or being out of step with traditional values. I could hear the struggle, which is often my struggle: the challenge to believe that our Way counts. Maybe a person gets paid for what he/she does, or maybe does not. Perhaps a person has a degree of fame or appreciation and maybe they’re completely unknown to the world. Is their way valid? Perhaps they have a plan or goal or perhaps they don’t. Maybe, instead of a goal, the present moment, lived mindfully or peacefully or with joy, is the whole reward.

I know that one thing I’ve learned on my circuitous route is that it IS real, it does count. I know this, because my pay is in my inner well-being, not cash. The real currency of this journey is good vibration, grace, peace, wholeness. Whatever our higher path or purpose, living true to it affects EVERYTHING.