May you and yours
Have a blessed holy-day.(image courtesy of pixabay.com)
Here are some quotes to ponder during the holidays. Enjoy!
The holiest of holidays are those kept by ourselves in silence and apart; the secret anniversaries of the heart. (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
Winter, a lingering season, is a time to gather golden moments, embark upon a sentimental journey, and enjoy every idle hour. (John Boswell)
Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home. (Edith Sitwell)
Kindness is like snow. It beautifies everything it covers. (Kahlil Gibran)
Sharing the holiday with other people, and feeling that you're giving of yourself, gets you past all the commercialism. (Caroline Kennedy)
Last week we were discussing how to gift yourself with the practice of mindfulness, of being present in the moment. Once you establish that, you can be present enough to give the gift of presence to others as well.
With all the many errands and festivities the holidays bring, we have many opportunities to be present for others. What does that mean? It means that you establish your own mindful presence first, then open yourself to the other's energy. Are you ignoring that harried check-out person while going over your to-do list, or are you taking a moment to be with that person and perhaps saying something to lighten their day? Are your frantically trying to make the party perfect, or are you taking the time to be with your guests and be present with them? The holidays offer so many possibilities to practice this gift of presence. Try it!
As we approach the holidays with all its frantic energy and endless tasks, I would like to off a new way to give a special gift. Give the gift of presence.
First, be present to yourself. Rather than having your mind constantly engaged in what you need to do next, take a few moments to breathe. Feel the air enter your nose, go down your throat, into your lungs, and feel your stomach expand as you take in that breath. Hold it a moment and, as you exhale, feel how it leaves your lungs, goes up your throat and out your nose again. Feel how that air nourishes your body and slows your mind. Practice this often. While standing in line, while waiting for others, while stuck in traffic -- the day offers many opportunities to be present if you pay attention.
So, dear Reader, give yourself the gift of being. Amidst all the doing, you can still experience and savor the moment. You deserve that gift.
In honor of the coming American holiday, Thanksgiving, I thought I'd offer some quotes on gratitude.
He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has. (Epictetus)
Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance. (Eckhart Tolle)
Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough. (Oprah Winfrey)
Last week we were discussing Deng Ming-Dao's XXX, which is a book of short examples from three Chinese traditions -- Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism. I wanted to share a particularly lovely translation of a chapter of the Tao Te Ching that Mr. Deng translated:
Among the ten thousand things,
Tao is the most profound.
It is the treasure of good people,
and the protector of bad people.
Beautiful words are sold at the market.
Noble deeds can be presented as a gift.
Even bad people are not abandoned.
A king is enthroned as the son of heaven
and appoints is three ministers.
The nobles may present their jade disks
and parade their teams of horses,
but it's not as good as presenting Tao.
Why did the ancients prize Tao so much?
Was it not because:
if could be had by any who sought it,
and that the guilty could find forgiveness in it?
That is why it is the treasure of the world.
Something to ponder, no?
We now call to order the chapter meeting of the Deng Ming-Dao Admiration Society. Our point of discussion for today's meeting is his book, The Way of Heart and Beauty: The Tao of Daily Life. It is a book well worth reading and savoring.
Like many of his other books, Mr. Deng offers small chapters, usually a page or two in length. In this case, he takes writings from three Chinese traditions -- Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism. Most of the chapters tell a short story, some almost fables, some offering a brief discussion of some philosophical point, some poetry. They are all interesting, both to compare the three traditions viewpoints as well as to find pearls of wisdom for one's own life.
That said, I rather wish that the author had offered some hints for interpretation of the more esoteric chapters. Perhaps something like what Stephen Mitchell did for his translation of the Tao Te Ching. Or perhaps my heart is not ready to open the nuggets of those chapters yet. In any case, I am sure you will find your own nuggets to treasure in this worthwhile book. Recommended.
I wanted to close this series on the book Wisdom of Souls: Case Studies of Life Between Lives From The Michael Newton Institute with some quotes which really touched my heart.
Sometimes a person, in a Life Between Lives session, would allow their guide to speak through them. That way, the therapist could discourse directly with the guide on behalf of the client, asking questions and getting clarification. Here are some pithy responses that really spoke to me. It concerns situations in which a person has a strained relationship with another person:
When we realize each person on this planet is walking a path designed to be exactly what they need, we can pull back and let go of our arrogant assumption that we know what is best for them, loving them just as they are.
Unconditional love is acceptance. Each person is on their own soul journey. Once we honor the choices of our loved ones, even when it hurts us, even when it keeps us awake at night, we will eventually find peace.
Words to ponder, no?
I've been raving about a wonderful book I discovered, Wisdom of Souls: Case Studies of Life Between Lives From The Michael Newton Institute. It details how various people come for a particular hypnotherapy protocol in which they are guided to see the interim existence between lifetimes. I kept wondering what I would learn if I could meet my guides, my soul group, and the council of elders in the eternal plane.
Many of the patients found in their Life Between Lives session that they were here on Earth to learn lessons or to heal the past. Still others had contracts to fulfill. One fascinating story tells of a man who found that his past life was as a child in a Nazi concentration camp. He strove to maintain a positive attitude in such horrific circumstances, and made a special point to always look one particular guard in the face. He felt, intuitively, that this guard had children of his own and the boy wondered how he could do the terrible things he did to children like his own. Finally, the boy was ushered to the gas chambers by this very guard. The boy faced his death bravely, holding hands with another child and not succumbing to fear or panic at the last moments.
Interestingly, the man found out that the Nazi guard from the past life was his own father in this lifetime. He was informed that his role in the past life was to teach the man, now his father, to become more compassionate and not submit to orders which he knew were immoral. This was due to a contract made between the two men, in which he agreed to live the brief life as the imprisoned child in order to help his father in this life to learn lessons. It almost made me feel as if this life is a bit like a play, in which we play parts in various ways, and when the curtain falls, we assume a different part. Fascinating reading.
Last week we discussed the book Wisdom of Souls: Case Studies of Life Between Lives From The Michael Newton Institute, which describes how various people underwent a specialized hypnotherapy protocol called Life Between Lives. In this therapy, the person is guided to see not only past lives but also the interim, when the soul meets with its guides, goes over the life just past, plans for the next one, and meets with its soul group. It's a fascinating read.
It seems to me that the soul is often on Earth to learn lessons and heal the past. For example, one patient had recurring stomach issues which stemmed from her fear and anger over childhood neglect and an abusive relationship. Interestingly, it also had to do with anger that she could not "stomach" in a past life in which she killed a woman who had killed her baby by shaking it too much. Rather than learning to forgive and let go, she held on to the anger, which carried over into the present life. Her current lesson was to forgive, take care of herself, and extricate herself from abusive and negative situations.
While the life details are unique and individual, I found that I could relate to many of the themes they covered. I think you will, too.
Can you imagine what you would ask if you were able to converse directly with your guides and the higher spirits in the eternal realm? For starters, you could ask about your purpose in life, the reasons for certain challenges, what you have yet to learn, why certain people seem more connected to you than others, or how to regain balance and healing. What an opportunity for receiving wisdom!
Well, there is a book that details several people who did just that. Using a hypnotherapy protocol developed by the late Dr. Michael Newton, his trained therapists describe these situations in the wonderful book, Wisdom of Souls: Case Studies of Life Between Lives From The Michael Newton Institute.
Although it uses the specific examples of their clients' lives, the wisdom that they receive is timeless and relevant to every life. I know that I highlighted several passages that gave me insight to some situations that I face. I believe you will benefit from this book's wisdom, too. Highly recommended.
Last week we looking at how painful situations can be an impetus to growth and grace. But is that the only purpose of suffering?
Lately, I've been toying with the idea that learning and growth in our suffering are not for us alone. Let me explain.
Not doubt you have heard that "we are all one," or "we are all in this together." On a metaphysical level, I believe that we are indeed all one, just are each individual drop is part of the ocean. We are all parts of Life. Individuality is just an illusion.
So if I go through a period of profound suffering, I may learn some important lessons, such as gratitude or forgiveness or self-discipline or tenacity. But those lessons, I believe, are not for myself alone.
If we are all one, then the lessons I learned become part of all of us. My newly-learned tenacity helps all of us by adding that much more strength and resolve to tackle the problems that face humanity. Your newly-learned compassion helps us to look at each other with greater understanding and kindness. Another person's gratitude helps us all to be aware of the beauty of life.
So, suffering does have a purpose. And it's for all of us to learn from it, because its purpose is for all of us.
Last week we were exploring the idea of karma as the root cause of our suffering. In some cases, we can say that our thoughts or actions are directly related to our suffering, as when we treat others cruelly and suffer loneliness, or when we speed through a school zone and get upset when a police officer issues us a ticket. In those cases, we reap what we sowed.
But what about the suffering that comes to us when we didn't do or think something that precipitated it? Let's say we suddenly lose our job because of a pandemic that caused the business to close. That's through no fault of our own. Or if we suddenly experience a serious illness. Or someone dear to us dies. How do we find purpose and meaning in those painful experiences?
If we take the attitude that life is about learning and growth, perhaps we can find ways to bring meaning in those situations. Perhaps you had a well-paying job until the pandemic caused the business to close. Were you too free with your money and spent it frivolously at times? Is this the time to learn how to be conservative with your money and to cherish the things you already have? Is it the time to swallow your pride and ask for help from those who might be willing or able to provide it? Is it the time to follow some intuition and create a business for yourself?
Or if you experience a deep loss of health or a loved one, what can you learn from your pain? Can you find ways to be grateful for what you had? Can you cherish the times when people reach out to you to offer words of compassion and healing? Can you use your pain to give life more beauty and meaning, much as salt will give things more flavor?
These attitudes give suffering more meaning and purpose, and help move you through the experience with more grace.
But I think there is another possible purpose to suffering. More on that next week.
Last week we were discussing what suffering is and a couple of approaches to how some people deal with suffering in their lives. Today, let's talk about karma and its role in suffering.
Some people believe that suffering is caused by some wrong action or thought pattern that a person has done in the past, whether in this life or in a previous life. To me, that speaks of some sort of retribution on the part of Life on someone because of an evil act or some unhelpful thoughts they had. I find that people who preach this often come across as judgmental and lacking in compassion. It's as if they blame the person for their suffering, say "Tsk, tsk, bad karma," and walk away. I find that very unhelpful.
Karma, put simply, means what you sow, you will reap. In other words, if you eat unhealthily and don't exercise, the consequence is a flabby, unhealthy body. Or if you are a constant fault-finder and alienate all your friends, your loneliness is a consequence of your words. That's karma, and there is wisdom in learning from that.
But if a person experiences suffering when there is no obvious antecedent to the situation, such as when a child has cancer, can we blame some thought or action from a previous life as causing this? To me, saying that Life punishes us for transgressions from previous lives is like hitting a puppy on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper for peeing on the carpet three lifetimes ago. It makes no sense to the puppy, and it makes no sense to us.
So, what is the purpose of suffering, then? More on this next week.
Part of living is experiencing suffering. There's no escaping it. But why do we suffer?
Suffering, according to the Buddha, comes in three forms: pain, such as illness or death; the change of a situation from pleasure to pain; and the pain that comes from the impermanence in life. We suffer because we falsely believe that things will not change for the worse, or that we are somehow immune to pain in life, or we are too attached to things, people or situations.
So many people, when met with a painful situation, ask, "Why me?" Their pain is then compounded by self-pity. Their pain is all that they can think or talk about, and pain is added upon pain. They fall into a rabbit hole of misery.
Some recognize that others in this world are suffering much more than they are, and ask, "Why not me?" Or they find some measure of gratitude that their situation is not far worse. They know that focusing on the negative only makes things much more difficult.
But if life is about learning and growth, then what is the purpose of suffering? Let's explore some ideas next week.
Finally, sit, relax, and breathe:
Don't make things too complicated. Try to relax, enjoy every moment, get used to everything. (Angelique Kerber)
Calm mind brings inner strength and self-confidence, so that's very important for good health. (Dalai Lama)
Sometimes the best solution is to rest, relax and recharge. It's hard to be your best on empty. (Sam Glenn)
(image courtesy of pixabay.com)
More wonderful quotes on relaxation:
Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes . . . Including you. (Anne Lamott)
Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop. (Ovid)
Sometimes, the most productive thing that you can do is to step outside and do nothing . . . relax and enjoy nature. (Melanie Charlene)
In many parts of the world, August is a time for the last flings of summer vacation, and a general time to relax and prepare for the busy season ahead. In that light, I'd like to offer some quotes this month on relaxation. Take a deep breath and savor these.
Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are. (Ude Ibiam Ufiem)
It's a good idea always to do something relaxing prior to making an important decision in your life. (Paulo Coelho)
Your calm mind is the ultimate weapon against your challenges. So relax! (Bryat Megill)
In keeping with this month's theme of freedom, I offer the following quotes:
'Emergencies' have always been the pretext on which the safeguards of individual liberty have been eroded. (Friedrich August van Hayek)
May we think of freedom, not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right. (Peter Marshall)
For to be free is not merely to cast of one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. (Nelson Mandela)
Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed. (Martin Luther King, Jr.)
As I mentioned last week, I read an interesting article by Jonathan Rauch who was describing how people can highjack democracy and chip away at freedom. The last technique in their arsenal is what he termed "the firehose of falsehood."
Rauch defines this as using every means possible to spread partial truths or outright lies, no matter how divorced from reality they might be, to flood the system. The aim is to pour out so many untruths that the public and media cannot possibly combat them all. The purpose is to leave the public confused, cynical, and mistrusting, a perfect scenario for an autocrat or demagogue to step in.
All these methodologies -- trolling, spreading conspiracies, and flooding the airwaves with lies -- are forms of information warfare, and are very sophisticated. It causes people to react emotionally, to listen to the lies and try to get more information about them, and to mistrust objective media and social institutions.
What can we do about this? First, be careful where you get your news information. Go to trusted and unbiased media outlets (such as PBS in the United States). Second, learn about media literacy and teach it to your children. Third, vote out people who engage in this kind of behavior. Finally, realize that people who say outlandish and hurtful things may be doing it for some nefarious reasons. Don't ignore that fact! Be wise, be objective, and be careful. Democracy and freedom are precious. Defend them.
Last week I was discussing an article by Jonathan Rauch who wrote about how to lose freedom in three easy steps. The first step, described last week, is to troll. The second step is what Rauch terms "conspiracy bootstrapping."
This is where one starts and spreads a conspiracy theory, get a few people to believe it, who then call for an investigation, and then claim that there is a coverup. When you are the target of a conspiracy theory, you become caught in a no-win situation. If you ignore it, you are accused of a coverup. If you deny the claim, you are repeating it and giving it more traction. If you investigate it, you are giving it more credibility. You become caught in a web of lies and crazy thinking.
What can be done to combat this? Whenever there is a conspiracy theory, facts and common sense must be given greater weight. If there is a conspiracy claim that has absolutely no factual basis, then point that out and put the onus of proof on the other side. Although Rauch did not mention it, I think humor and satire help make the point that this is all crazy talk and contradictory to reality. Laugh at their claims. But be careful not to laugh at the person, as tempting as it might be, because that only creates "otherism" and defensiveness. I am sure we can all think of times when we believed things that were not true. Compassion mixed with a heavy dose of wisdom and criticial thinking are crucial.
A while back I was reading an article by Jonathan Rauch, who is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of the "The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth." In this article, he was detailing how a democratic country can be highjacked and start to lose its freedom. He described how to do this in three easy steps.
The first step is trolling. The purpose of trolling is to get noticed and make people react emotionally. When people become outraged, they rally around their beloved groups and fundamental beliefs. They also remember what is being said that makes them upset.
As Adolf Hitler said, "Who cares whether they laugh at us, treating us as fools or criminals? The point is that they talk about us and constantly think about us."
What is the cure for this? Perhaps it is twofold. First, vote out the leaders who engage in this behavior. Second, be aware that the purpose of their behavior is to make you leave your logical brain and react emotionally. Step back, take a deep breath, and remember that they doing this to manipulate you. Keeping a calm, objective mindset is imperative.
Here are a couple of quotes worth thinking about for the week:
"The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life -- the sick, the needy and the handicapped." (Hubert H. Humphrey)
"The ultimate sense of security will be when we come to recognize that we are all part of one human race. Our primary allegiance is to the human race and not to one particular color or border. I think the sooner we renounce the sanctity of these many identities and try to identify ourselves with the human race the sooner we will get a better world and a safer world." (Mohamed ElBaradei)
Here is a quote for our age:
"To learn to transform conflict, we must let go of the notion that something or someone is wrong or bad. This belief creates fundamental resistance, and it is the first obstacle to working with conflict. We can shift our point of view to see that conflicts, like dreams, may possess an elegant intelligence that expresses truths we may not want to see clearly. For example, an old pattern needs to be abandoned or a relationship needs to grow or change. We can, with practice, learn to see this intelligence at work and respond creatively and constructively. The conflict isn't the problem; our response to it is." (Diane Musho Hamilton)
Last week I was patting myself on the back for having finished B.K. Frantzis' The Great Stillness, the Water Method of Taoist Meditation. In this book, Mr. Frantzis presents all the positions that a person might find themselves in, and still be able to meditate in the Taoist water method.
These positions are: sitting, lying down, standing, walking, and during sex. For each, he offers some preparatory exercises and specific methods for meditating in those situations.
Now, about the "during sex" part. I'm no prude, but before I read the book, the idea seemed a little, well, unspiritual. But Frantzis deals with this issue in a matter-of-fact, tasteful, and helpful way. I did not feel a bit squeamish or put off. Rather, his point is that no matter what we are doing, we can still meditate. That seems like a whole new level of spirituality to me.
For that reason, I recommend this book.
A while back, I wrote how I tried to get through B. K. Frantzis' first book (Relaxing Into Your Being, The Water Method of Taoist Meditation Series, Volume 1) on the Taoist water method of meditation, and it took three attempts, some months and years apart. I was so proud of myself when I finally finished that book.
Well, there is a second book in that series, and I am proud to say that I finished that one, too. And I didn't have to stop and restart it three times! The book I speak of is The Great Stillness, the Water Method of Taoist Meditation. It starts where the first book ends, that is, the first book is considered preparatory, and this second book is for intermediate practitioners, along with hints about some advanced practices.
Some people, in their reviews, complained that the book seemed disorganized and meandering. To me, it felt like a one-on-one master's level course on Taoist meditation, with asides and forays into history or experiences that are relevant to the topic. Yes, it does take patience, but Taoist meditation is a practice for life, and there is not point in rushing through.
If this sort of meditation practice appeals to you, do yourself a favor and start with the first book first (Relaxing Into Your Being, The Water Method of Taoist Meditation Series, Volume 1) before going to this one. Otherwise, many of the practices and references won't make any sense. It is a book to treasure and refer to time and time again.
A couple more quotes to ponder:
"Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." (Voltaire)
"No drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we're looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn't test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed, and love of power." (P.J. O'Rourke)
Here are some pithy quotes to chew on for the week:
"Possibly the heart of our humanity is to want something we cannot achieve by our own efforts." (Tim Farrington)
"Our thoughts limit what we're capable of doing. There are external forces arrayed against us, but there are also internal forces that sabotage us before we even get started. Our mind is good at setting us up for failure and getting us to think small. But I have found that we will do for love that which we don't think is possible. So the question to ask ourselves is "What do I love?" (Julia Butterfly Hill)
I am pretty sure that I've reviewed Sophy Burnham's book, The Ecstatic Journey: Walking the Mystical Path in Everyday Life, before, but I wanted to touch on some things again. I think that re-reading some things, after having traveled farther along on the path of life, gives one a different perspective. It's a bit like reading a travel guide before and after you've seen the sights.
On my first reading, I felt like the author dwelled too much on her personal journey and emotional experiences, and that felt a little off-putting to me at the time. On my second reading, however, I noticed how she would talk about her mystical insights and then refer to many mystic's writings and experiences from the past. It helped to validate and explain what she lived.
For that reason, I think this is a book worth reading twice, some years apart. It will inform not only your own journey so far, but also the road and sights to come.
Last week, I was discussing my hesitancy to recommend B.K. Frantzis' Relaxing Into Your Being: The Water Method of Taoist Meditation Series, Vol. 1 [Paperback]. Yet, because of some results I experienced, I wanted to offer it to those who might find it useful.
First, I think it would be helpful to understand the author's view of meditation:
A commonly overlooked point in some meditation traditions is that, if you wish to meditate solely to become physically and mentally relaxed, you run the risk of never gaining spiritually. People use chi gung for relaxing and avoiding depression, as if it were an antidepressant drug. Meditation can certainly calm or relax you, but its highest purpose in Taoism is to make you aware of the center of your being; that is, to find spirit and emptiness, the essential components of Consciousness itself. This level is beyond states of physical and mental relaxation; rather it is relaxation into your being or "soul."
The various exercises that Mr. Frantzis offers seek to address and eliminate the blockages we have that keep us from getting into a calm and relaxed state so that the meditator can directly experience the inner Oneness with Consciousness. He shows the reader how to find these blockages and dissolve them. It's very powerful.
How do I know it works? A quick story. As you know, I am almost never wrong. I am wrong maybe as often as a third blue moon on the sixth Tuesday of the month during an odd-numbered leap year. Well, I was frustrated at home trying to fix something that wasn't cooperating, got mad and said some hurtful things to my Significant Other. I cooled off, thought about it, and very simply apologized to my Significant Other. I mean, when you're never wrong, you never have to apologize, right? Well, after my Significant Other got off the floor after a dead faint, we cleared the air and felt better. I thought later that the dissolving practices that Mr. Frantzis' book taught me must have made that possible. Any improvement is welcome.
There is a second volume to this series. I hope to report to you about it in three years or less. Wish me luck.
I'm a little hesitant to recommend this book, not because it's poorly written or anything, but because it would appeal to a select few, I think. It's B.K. Frantzis' Relaxing Into Your Being: The Water Method of Taoist Meditation Series, Vol. 1 [Paperback]. Mr. Frantzis is a Taoist master and teacher who, as a young man, went to China to study with an aged Taoist master in the water method of Taoist meditation.
When I purchased the book, I wanted to find some additional Taoist meditation practices, and this book provides them within the context of the water method of the Taoist tradition. The water method is contrasted to the fire method as yin is to yang. In other words, the water method accepts what is and works with it gently, whereas the fire method uses much more force and control. The idea of gentleness appealed to me, so this is the book I chose.
However, I was unprepared for what the book offered. I thought it would be a series of nice visualizations, perhaps some mantras to chant, and it is far from that. In this method, the body is used to guide the mind. It presents five aspects of body positions to help still the mind: sitting, walking, standing, lying down, and having sex (yes, really). Mr. Frantzis often breaks down the various exercises into little, bitty parts, and then says to work on those little, bitty parts for a week to a month. When I did that, I found I lost interest in the book because I felt stuck at practicing little, bitty parts and wasn't going anywhere.
Which is why the book has stayed by my bedside for at least three years. I tried reading it, got stuck, put it aside, picked it back up a few months later, got stuck, put it aside, and tried again a couple more times. That's embarrassing to say, but that's how I finally got through it. And I'm glad I did.
More on that next week.
Here are some more inspiring quotes:
As long as we insist on relating to it strictly on our own terms -- as strange to us or subject to us -- the wilderness is alien, threatening, fearful. We have no choice then but to become its exploiters, and to lose, by consequence, our place in it. It is only when, by humility, openness, generosity, courage, we make ourselves able to relate to it on its terms that it ceases to be alien. (Wendell Berry)
Love is a powerful tool, and maybe, just maybe, before the last little town is corrupted and the last of the unroaded and undeveloped wildness is given over to dreams of profit, maybe it will be love, finally, love for the land for its own sake and for what it holds of beauty and joy and spiritual redemption, that will make [wildness] not a battlefield but a revelation. (T. H. Watkins)
I found these quotes and wanted to share them. They offer something to ponder, and hopefully, act upon:
Like the mind-set that places men above women, whites above Blacks, and rich above poor, the mentality that places humans above nature is a dysfunctional delusion. (Petra K. Kelly)
In spite of our rather boastful talk about progress, and our pride in the gadgets of civilization, there is, I think, a growing suspicion -- indeed, perhaps an uneasy certainty -- that we have been sometimes a little too ingenious for our own good . . . We are beginning to wonder whether our power to change the face of nature should not have been tempered with wisdom for our own good, and with a greater sense of responsibility for the welfare of generations to come. (Rachel Carson)
Last week we were discussing planting seeds to build the future that we want to see. We agreed that it's a bit like planting seeds in a garden, because you need to be specific about what you want to see, you need to have a plan for where it should grow, and you need to be wise about your timing.
First, be specific. We have all seen things in our society that we don't like or agree with. Perhaps it's racial equality and justice, prison reform, economic opportunities for all, overpopulation, equitable health care, telling the truth instead of spinning lies to manipulate people, climate change, pollution . . . the list goes on and on. Choose one. Choose one that stirs your passion. Choose one that you can envision helping to make a difference. No, you won't be able to do this alone; the problems are too big. But choose.
Next, have a plan. The chances are that there are already organizations or movements that are addressing your chosen issue. See if you can align with their motives and methods. If not, start your own. Ask for help. Change won't come without some buy-in and assistance from others. Also, be wise about where you want to see the change happen. If possible, keep it local. That way, you can be part of the movement toward change in your community and you will see the results on a personal level.
Finally, be wise about your timing. Just as you don't plant tomatoes in January snow drifts, you want to make sure your community is awake and aware enough to desire change, and to help you achieve it. Otherwise, you risk just beating your head against the wall. People resist change when they don't see the need or have any buy-in. This takes wisdom. Rely on the wisdom and insight of others.
So, let's get out there! Let's plant some seeds! Let's build a better future for all of us.
Perhaps you follow some of the leaders in the metaphysical world -- people who say that we're in a rebuilding phase in the evolution of our society. One of the things I've read over and over is that this year is the time to plant seeds for building the future that we want.
I was thinking about that -- planting seeds. In some parts of the world, this is the time to tidy up our gardening spots, amend the soil, till perhaps, and start planning what we want to grow, and where. We need to be specific and have a plan to make sure we have as much success as Mother Nature allows.
Similarly, in planning for a better future, we need to be specific and we need to plan. What are some seeds that we want to see sprout and grow in the future? I know that for many of us, it's clearer to say what we DON'T want than what we DO desire.
But that's no way to plant a garden, is it? I mean, you wouldn't go to your local garden center and ask to buy a packet of "non-onion" seeds, would you? What would non-onion seeds be, anyway? Carrots, parsley, corn, tomatoes, rutabagas? No, you need to be specific. You need to know what you do want.
Also, you need to have a plan. In a garden, you wouldn't plant corn under heavy shade or delicate herbs in the hottest, sunniest plot, would you? Similarly, you wouldn't plant your tomatoes in the midst of winter, would you? In the same way, you need to make sure your seed is planted in just the right conditions and at the best time. More on this next week.
I couldn't leave this month without sharing one more excerpt from that wonderful book, Heaven's Face, Thinly Veiled: A Book of Spiritual Writing by Women. This is from a letter written by Louisa May Alcott to a friend who had apparently experienced the death of a loved one:
I feel that in this life we are learning to enjoy a higher, & fitting ourselves to take our place there. If we use well our talents, opportunities, trials & joys here when we pass on it is to the society of nobler souls, as in this world we find our level inevitably.
I think immortality is the passing of a soul thro many lives or experiences, & such as are truly lived, used & learned help on to the next, each growing richer higher, happier, carry[y]ing with it only the real memories of what has gone before. If in my present life I love one person truly, no matter who it is, I believe that we meet somewhere again, though were or how I dont know or care, for genuine love is immortal. So is real wisdom, virtue, heroism, &c. & these noble attributes lift humble lives into the next experience, & prepare them to go on with greater power & happiness. . . . . .
This is my idea of immortality. An endless life of helpful change, with the instinct, the longing to rise, to learn, to love, to get nearer the source of all good & go on from the lowest plane to the highest, rejoicing more & more as we climb into the clearer light, the purer air, the happier life which must exist, for, as Plato said 'The soul cannot imagine what does not exist because it is the shadow of God who knows & creates all things.'
Ah, yes. What a treasure.
I'd like to share another excerpt from the wonderful book, Heaven's Face, Thinly Veiled: A Book of Spiritual Writing by Women. This one is from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, best known for her writings on the grieving process. Here, she talks about finding inner peace and presents a lengthy quote by Black Elk:
The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the soul of men when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells Wakan-Tanka (God) and that this center is really everywhere; it is within each of us.
This is the real peace, and the others are but reflections of this. The second peace is that which is made between two individuals, and the third is that which is made between two nations. But above all you should understand that there can never be peace between nations until there is first known that true peace which . . . is within the souls of men.
The rest of her essay, actually a chapter in her book On Children and Death, discusses how we avoid peace and choose unhappiness because we are not being honest about what is within us. Good reading.
Last week I was telling you about how much I enjoyed a book that has been sitting on my bookshelf for years -- Heaven's Face, Thinly Veiled: A Book of Spiritual Writing by Women. It is definitely a book to treasure and refer to again and again.
I marked some pages that especially touched me with green sticky notes. By the time I was finished reading the book, it looked like a tree branch in spring. I'd like to share some of my favorite parts.
Here is Katharine Trevelyan, writing about a mystical experience she had in a garden:
The wonder was beyond anything I have ever read or imagined or heard men speak about. I was Adam walking alone in the first Paradise. That it was a garden near the outskirts of London in the twentieth century made no difference, for time was not, or had come round again in a full circle. Though I was Adam, I had no need of Eve, for both combined within me. Marriage and maternity fulfilled and surpassed, I had run beyond womanhood and become a human being.
I love the quote "for both combined within me" because it echoes one of the themes of The Gemini Bond, that the masculine and feminine aspects of our personalities must combine in order for us to evolve and grow. Delicious stuff.
With the continuation of the pandemic and the need to avoid public places like bookstores (sigh), I've been exploring some of the books that have been sitting on my own bookshelves for years. And I came across a real treasure.
Entitled Heaven's Face, Thinly Veiled: A Book of Spiritual Writing by Women, this is a compilation of writings from women across many centuries, many different spiritual traditions, and in many forms. Poetry, essays, letters, book excerpts; Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, traditional; voices from centuries ago to contemporary writers -- they are all represented here. Many of the writers were unknown to me, which was a special treat. And some of the writers that I did know expressed themselves in ways that were unexpected and very touching.
I don't think I ever read this book all the way through before. I must have just peeked at different sections here and there. I do recommend that you take the time to read it cover to cover. The compiler and editor, Sarah Anderson, did a wonderful job of organizing the chapters into seven topics: the world as a work of art; aiming at the highest; finding a constant source of pleasure; burning with fire; lost in the abyss; grace under pressure; and how this life is the germ for the next. It's fascinating that despite the differences in life circumstances or the time in which they lived, so many writers echoes each others' sentiments on these topics. Get this book.
Last week I was praising editor and translator Jane Hirshfield's book, Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women. There is one poem that I would like to share with you, to give you a taste of the treasures in this book.
Written by the Japanese Zen poet Jusammi Chikako around the year 1300, it speaks of how the bright moon, a symbol of enlightenment, enters the house when the inhabitants are not awake, that is, not actively trying to reach enlightenment. All that is needed is that the door remain open.
On this summer nightAll the household lies asleep,And in the doorway,For once open after dark,Stands the moon, brilliant, cloudless.
(translation by Edwin A. Cranston)
Since I haven't been able to browse bookstores as I used to, with the pandemic and all, I've been pulling books off my bookshelves that have been ignored for too long. One such book is the collection edited by the poet and translator Jane Hirshfield, Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women. I'm so glad I had the opportunity to spend time again with an old friend like this book. Perhaps you would like to add it to your bookshelf as well.
It contains poems and brief writings by women from women spanning many centuries. Fortunately, Hirshfield provides a brief biography of each writer and some interpretation notes when needed. She also provided many of the translations. Some of the writers are well known -- Mirabai, Teresa of Avila, Emily Dickinson -- but many are by writers who are not as well known outside of their respective countries. I appreciate the efforts Hirshfield made to include writers from all spiritual traditions and many, many countries. It makes interesting reading in that it allows the reader to compare how time and place don't make much difference in the insights of a spiritually enlightened person (or someone aspiring to that state). Very highly recommended.
I found some interesting quotes that I thought I'd share. Definitely something to think about!
It is hard to tell which is worse: the wide diffusion of things that are not true, or the suppression of things that are true. (Harriet Martineau)
In the past censorship worked by blocking the flow of information. In the twenty-first century censorship works by flooding people with irrelevant information. (Yuval Noah Harari)
The right to freedom of speech is no license to deceive, and willful misrepresentation is a violation of its principles. It is sophistry to pretend that in a free country a man has some sort of inalienable or constitutional right to deceive his fellow men. There is no more right to deceive than there is a right to swindle, to cheat, or to pick pockets. (Walter Lippmann)
Last week I was extolling the terrific writing and the beautiful presentation of Tales from the Tao: The Wisdom of the Taoist Masters, written by Solala Towler. This week I wanted to briefly retell a story from the book because it really captured my imagination.
Once, long ago, a young man named Wang Chou and a young woman named Ch'ien Niang fell in love. They could not marry, however, because Ch'ien Niang's parents frowned on their pairing and decided to promise her to a servant. Heartbroken, Wang Chou ran away to escape his pain, but soon found that Ch'ien Niang followed him. They travelled and finally settled in a far-off land, where they married, found employment, and started a family.
Years later, they felt guilty over how they had left their families, and decided to go back and try to make amends. Fearful of her parents' reactions, Ch'ien Niang sent Wang Chou to their house first to talk to them and try to smooth things over. After listening to Wang Chou, Ch'ien Niang's parents sat there, puzzled. Then, they showed him to a back room, where their daughter, Ch'ien Niang, lay very sick, as she had for many years. Wang Chou led her parents to his wife, and the ill Ch'ien Niang followed them. Once the two Ch'ien Niangs saw each other, they fell into each other's arms, weeping and, miraculously, melting into each other until they became one person. Everyone was astounded, especially after they realized this one daughter was wearing two sets of clothing!
It made my imagine run: Was this a story of parallel realities? Of Twin Souls and living in the contradictions of the spiritual and physical planes? Was it about the purpose of suffering in spiritual growth? I don't know. I just enjoyed the story, and think you would find the other stories in this book equally enjoyable.
Let's start the new year with a recommendation for a terrific book. Written by Solala Towler, who studied Taoism for many years, Tales from the Tao: The Wisdom of the Taoist Masters is a thoroughly beautiful book. First, it is beautifully bound, with crisp, soft pages and a lovely sense of quality. Well done, Watkins Press. Second, it has beautiful photographs in black and white by John Cleare. I wish it had said more about the photographer and where the photographs were taken, but they are lovely to contemplate.
But of course, the writing is what really captured me. They come in the form of short stories, most of them from the Taoist canon, such as those told by Chuang Tzu, but a few were written by Mr. Towler himself. Rather than the very brief, sometimes almost cryptic, versions told in the original Taoist writings, these are retold, fleshed out, and beautifully written. First, I read through the book in great gulps, then went right back and savored each story slowly. It's a terrific book. Highly recommended.
Last week I was evoking the image of making stew as a metaphor for humanity. I had an insight recently that the idea of "We Are All One" seems odd when you consider how different our life experiences are. Yet, when viewed as a stew, where each person contributes some life lesson to the whole of humanity (the human stew), it makes more sense.
Like in a stew, each person contributes their own flavor, their own ingredient. And those flavors come from lessons learned in their unique life. And since we are all one, we all benefit from those life lessons on a deep, spiritual level. What we each offer either helps or hinders humanity as a whole, just as each ingredient in a stew either makes it taste better or worse.
Maybe you are contributing some life lesson about patience. Or about standing in your truth. Perhaps your neighbor is contributing a life lesson about dealing with difficult people or overcoming a bad habit. Or another person contributes a life lesson about sacrifice or balancing the needs of others with their own needs. The lessons are endless, just as the variety of our lives are endless.
Have you tasted some perseverance lately? That would be a drop of me.
What have you contributed to our wonderful stew?
No, this is not a post about cannibalism. Rather, it is about a new insight I had about the concept of "We Are All One" along with the wide variety of life experiences we all have.
So, let's start with a picture of some stew. I don't know about you, but there is nothing quite so fulfilling as a big bowl of steaming-hot stew on a cold winter's day. I've even enjoyed it on a cold morning for breakfast! It might have some meat cut into chunks, or perhaps some cubes of tofu, along with some potatoes, cauliflower, carrots, celery, onions, zucchini or yellow squash, beans, tomatoes, maybe some broccoli or some kale (ewww), a beef shank with marrow, a lot of chicken broth, a touch of wine, and olive oil.
And let's not forget the spices! Salt, pepper, chili flakes, Italian seasoning, thyme, garlic, maybe some ginger and cinnamon. Quite the variety.
And every bite is different. You might get some protein along with a potato in this spoonful, and then some onion and carrot in the next; perhaps a bit of the bone marrow along with some tomatoes in the next spoon. And it all tastes wonderful.
And I think humanity is a bit like that stew. More on this next week.