The 2020 election voting is over. For me, the vote was as much about civility as it was about policy. So the Biden/Harris ticket has won the popular vote and the electoral vote, what now? Trump is not the problem, but our fears created an atmosphere where he could thrive. There is work to do to unite our country and keep equality and equanimity as the important focus of growth needed for this country of immigrants. For me that means that demonizing of Trump supporters is not appropriate. During the last few years, the rhetoric of name calling, labeling, and angst toward others has been exhausting. It is not my job to change others or demand they think differently. It is my job to remove myself from environments that feel toxic, and then continue to work to have an inner dialogue that is inclusive; not of all points of view, but of all those who hold an opinion different from my own.
Judgment and discernment sometimes get confused. Discernment tells me that speaking out about what in my opinion is inappropriate for our country and myself seems to be my civic duty. For me, conscious and unconscious racism and mistreatment of others is never appropriate and cannot be tolerated in a thriving Democracy. Again, my hope is to find the courage to keep standing up and speaking out. Judgment goes a step further and demands that anyone holding a different view from me is a “bad person.” The next few months may be challenging for our country and each of us personally. Our collective experiences may encourage us to look at our belief systems to check their validity. It is my hope that I will have the courage to live the civility my vote expressed. The courage to live my values and to respect the values of others seems the path toward a United States of America.
As people seeking freedom and prosperity for ourselves, we have made many mistakes in judgment over the last 400 years, and it is my hope that we can seek truth and reconciliation no matter how difficult it may be; and that with new leadership, we can continue on a path toward a “more perfect union.” May we find the wisdom to create our best lives together.
Absence Of Compassion
A moment of truth came to me without filter; when there is an absence of compassion for self or another, no healing is possible in that moment or at the current level of awareness. Two people were having a difficult discussion about the value of their friendship and their tendencies to be self-absorbed. As I listened and observed feeling that I knew them both, I was surprised by their interaction. First Friend, “Why would you even talk to me or want to have a friendship.” Second Friend, “Because I feel safer in the world knowing you are out there, accessible.” First Friend with emotion in the voice, “Well that does make me feel better.”
As I observed, the conversation came to an end. There was no place to go. It reminded me of two rules of improv, listen and say yes to further the scene. These two rules also seem applicable to life’s interactions. If compassion had been present and further understanding encouraged, what might have been the response to the statement, “I feel safer in the world knowing you are out there….” As silence followed and discussion ended, it occurred to me that the emotion and vulnerability behind this statement had not been heard. As a loving friend, my curiosity had been aroused. Why did this independent, self-sufficient, efficient, intelligent person ever feel unsafe? I feel I might have asked, “why, and what could I do to help?” First friend did not hear the emotion or did not feel it needed addressing. First friend also took the second friend’s expressed feelings in and stated that the expressed pain made him/her (the first friend) feel better. Since the difficult conversation began around the stated feeling of self-absorption, this response seemed to prove the point.
As is my habit, this interaction stayed with me for the purpose of understanding what I had heard. Knowing one friend better than another, was I biased? Knowing both friends have the capacity to feel deeply, why was this interaction so disconnected? Knowing that these two people seem to exhibit a different level of self-awareness, was the expectation of a compassionate response too high? Why was I invested in wanting the first friend to have a more compassionate response, was I attached to the outcome? No complicated answers came. All these questions pointed to my judging the motivation of another, which of course is impossible.
In that moment, self-compassion softened my judging mind, and my heart opened to the wounding these two friends create because each seems to be self-absorbed at times; wanting the other to be different. When one seeks to be authentic and demonstrate vulnerability, the other seems to stay in a defensive posture of self-protection. And just as in an improv scene, no further connection is possible until somehow, they can rise above their own needs and have compassion for the wounding and needs of the other. The goal here of course is to create less wounding vs control, but that goal cannot be reached with the same energy with which the original wounding took place. A deep intention to do no harm seems to be needed, but it would require more balanced awareness and a deep caring about the other. An intention to understand and an openness of heart would have to become greater than the need to self-protect. An intention to understand vs being understood. As I began this writing, the absence of compassion was uppermost in my mind, now it seems the bigger problem is the absence of trust.
Letting Go Of Ill Will
Letting go of ill will feels different than forgiveness inside my body. For me, letting go of ill will is the embodiment of compassion. Forgiveness feels like absolving harmful actions of another while releasing ill will seems to be about my actions and my actions only. The difficult part for me is that my mind tells me that I can influence the behavior of another by responding to their actions with first anger and then words of self-protection. I cannot. It is the acceptance of this knowing that enables me to let go of ill will soon enough to not cause the other or me more suffering. This is a challenge when someone has harmed me by their actions over a long period of time.
Recently a wise teacher introduced me to the concept of “letting go of ill will.” It has brought me to a different way of observing life; mine and others. It is not easy, but for me, it is necessary to live a joyful Life. Acknowledging the hurt that the anger is covering is my first step. Saying what I need to say as gently as I can is next. Then an acceptance that the other person is deeply suffering or they would not act in a way that harms me. As Joe Biden reminded me in his town meeting, “we can question someone’s judgment, but we cannot question another’s motivation. We simply don’t know enough to do that.” Years ago, another friend taught me the need to let go; it took me years to be able to do so. Forgiveness did not seem possible, but over time I did let go of my ill will with the acceptance that what is done is done. Joy returned to my Life and has never left.
Recently I shared with a wise friend that another friend stated, “your actions bring me down.” This wise friend reminded me that I bring a bright light everywhere I go and that if someone perceives their suffering of “down” while standing near me, they were already in shadow.” They went on to say that a shadow seems darker when surrounded by light and seeing it so vividly can be scary for the one who is suffering. It can threaten their perceived comfort. Of course, this felt true and I felt better. However, the ill will I carried was the shadow now surrounding my own light. I blamed the critical friend. Now I accept that I am responsible for my suffering; no one else. It is difficult for me when someone I love doesn’t find me good company. My thoughts tell me they do not know me, but in fact the experience illuminates the part of me I don’t quite know yet. As gratitude rises into wisdom, I let go of the need for perfection in them and me. I process my busy thoughts by writing and clarity slowly returns. Sometimes I share with them and sometimes I do not. Ill will toward others and myself is a burden I choose not to carry. When I choose wisely, joy and light return in this moment, and what the other person does or does not do effects my well-being less.
For a while my ill will is replaced by sadness for misunderstandings and unskilled interactions that cannot be changed. Eventually I come to accept this moment as it is and look to see the learning for me in each of my experiences. Compassion arises for the suffering our unskilled views and actions created. That wise teacher introduced me to the following poem just yesterday, which I embrace now:
Give me energy for my heart to turn to the spiritual.
Give me energy for the spiritual to become a way.
Give me energy for this way to dispel confusion.
Give me energy for confusion to arise as wisdom.
McLeod notes: "The Tibetan master Gampopa composed this prayer in the 12th century. It has withstood the test of time, which is always a good sign."
My day awaits; may I find joy within the light that surrounds me.
My new goal for this Fall season is to visit all the parks in my small town. Yesterday I discovered a path that flows from behind the High School to a beautiful park. This park was my intended destination as it contains a monument to the Vietnam War Veterans. The Vietnam War was a non-war that I had actively opposed; as did many. It still seems like an incredible loss of Life for little purpose, if any. So, it came as no surprise when deep feelings of sorry for the loss flared within me. It came and faded as I realized there was no possible way to change what had occurred. Suddenly I just felt the deep compassion for so much suffering and loss.
As I roamed the park, I got a bit confused about how best to find my way home. I wasn’t lost. I knew where I was and I knew where I eventually wanted to be. Since I love this feeling of adventure, I became curious about what was nearby. I found a beautiful art piece created from a fallen tree, I found a skate park filled with children, I found a teenager as confused as me, and we compared notes. I found beautiful old trees, evidence of someone’s hard work to create a trail, a young Mom who radiated or perhaps reflected my joy in the sunshine. We spoke of the freedom of being unafraid to wander. We laughed. I found a YMCA that was unknown to me, but I didn’t find the road to home I was expecting. Being a bit tired, I looked at my phone to see exactly where I was in relationship to home. It seemed I needed to go back because I was at a dead-end. It also seemed that between the dead-end and home was a wooded area. My curiosity got the best of me, and I began to walk in at least the right direction toward home. I discovered a path in the woods. It was heading downhill and around a curve so visibility of where it went was unclear. Into the woods went my feet without protest from negative thoughts. It would be a fun adventure no matter where I ended up. My heart felt free and light. My mind focused on the beauty at hand. In a very short time, the backside of the neighborhood high school appeared. I had discovered a new way home.
As I rounded the end of the school, I met a young couple and asked them if they knew that the path behind the school led to the park. They said they did and that they had gone the long way around many times before they found it. We laughed and continued in opposite directions; each heading toward home. My cobwebby mind from the morning had settled, and I recognized my deep presence within this experience. Soothing. Later as I sat at home, tired and happy, sipping my smoothie, it occurred to me that my Path to Awareness is found in moments of discovery. Remembering the past can inform the present and having an idea about where home is gives comfort, but awareness rests in this moment’s experience. Perhaps being a bit confused leads me to discover what is truly there as each moment becomes the next, and the next, and the next. In this moment, my Path To Awareness is not about where I’ve been, what I’ve done, or even what I will do; my Path To Awareness is here; now!
Path To Awareness
As a child, I sought solitude in the company of trees. I still do. My first deep connection began there. It was under a giant tree near my home, that I began to question the teachings of my parents. My home was not peaceful and I escaped the limiting beliefs, anger, judgments, and rules by sitting in the quietness of nature where I could hear myself think. At 12 years old, I spoke with my Dad and left the Southern Baptist Church. He required me to attend ‘some’ church so I went to a Methodist church with my Aunt Kate. It was not the church, but my relationship with Aunt Kate that inspired me to continue to examine my own thoughts and feelings about where I came from, who I am, and what Path I wanted to be on. In short, she respected my right to know myself deeply and trusted my ability to live from that self-awareness.
During my child bearing years, we attended church. We baptized our children and I did my best to offer my children the freedom of choice when it came to their own decisions. At one point I taught Sunday school where I used the lessons to teach what I called socialization skills. As the time past, church going became less and less a priority. I returned to my readings about Eastern Philosophy and became a member of the Unitarian Universalist church. I called myself a seeker vs a believer. It was comforting.
Life began to happen. My son was deep into alcoholism, I was divorced, my daughter was having my second grandchild. All was not right with my world. Walking through a bookstore, I saw Gary Zukav’s book, “Seat Of The Soul.” I didn’t do self-help books! I moved on. The book seemed to keep calling me back. I stood in line to buy a different book, but somehow, I could not leave the store without just looking at the Zukav book. It contained a language for so much of what I already knew. Living in fear of judgments (mine and other’s) was not the Path I wanted for my Life. I bought, read, and reread the book, which eventually lead to me joining the Authentic Power Program given by Gary Zukav and Linda Francis. I was in deep pain and my son died and my long-term partnership after my divorce ended in chaos.
For eight years, I continued to study. I knew myself better, but often seemed to argue with processes, ideas, etc. I knew about emotional awareness, the need for self-compassion. Sometimes I was at peace, but often felt inadequate and fearful while helping others discover and confront their own fears. Gary and Linda asked me to leave the program because they felt they had brought me to intellectual knowledge, but felt it was my job to discover how to bring that knowledge to action in my own Life. It was a painful lonely time as I tried to understand what I had done wrong and why I was being abandoned. I was very attached to my role as “spiritual person.” Now the image was a “failed spiritual person.”
I had reached a place of no return and the fear of powerlessness was overwhelming, and I chose in that moment to let it get as big as it needed to get. I would stay with it. I asked myself if I had no pre-conceived image of myself, no need for admiration from others, no role I had to play, what would I be and/or do today? No image was present within me and no answers came. The pain in my chest, solar plexus, and lower abdomen was immense. I felt no need to be courageous, or strong, or wise or thoughtful, or tearful or anything; I just sat in the pain. After a while, my pain lessened and breathing became easier. I realized that all of my images had been created to protect myself from rejection of myself as well as from the rejection of others. In that moment of lesser pain, I chose to love the emptiness I was feeling. No bells rang, no birds chirped, no one cheered, no message called to me, no judgmental thoughts invaded my mind; there was nothing to be and nothing to do. There was no image to maintain. I was just a soul in the deep process of knowing it and of exploring deep intimacy within myself.
I began again an inward investigation that I had started when I was twelve. The questions I ask myself are different and if no answer comes, I accept that fact and continue to love nature, to seeks solitude, and to accept what I don’t understand in this moment. I returned to the study of the Four Noble Truths about 8 years ago. Their teachings have supported my deeper need of awareness in this moment. I do not call it spiritual, but I do understand that continuing to be present and be compassionate with myself and others is my Path to Awareness.
As my journey continues, I know I am both perfect and imperfect, I am spiritual and human, I am fearful and courageous. I also know that I want to be present with all my experiences as they occur. This is my current Path to Awareness. More than anything I am grateful to be here to continue my learning. The Path To Awareness has no final destination. I am ok with that.
Courage To Begin
CS Lewis wrote: "Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at its testing point."
Finally, I left my neighborhood. Many things have occurred since I went road biking in traffic: Knee surgery, move from the country, new volunteer opportunities, quarantine; you get the drift. Today I could find no excuse. It was not too early, too late, too rainy, too cold, too hot. I literally had to push myself down the steps. Was I ready to be alert to cars, squirrels, deer, unknown bumps and hills? My head said no; my heart said, "Seriously." Off I went. I only had to push up one hill even though each time my mind said too steep. I went 2.5 miles so what's the big deal? I was exhausted as the tension left my body when I stopped in my driveway. Seriously! So I gave myself the treat of one quick mile around my apartment. The wind blew my hair and cooled my face. I so love biking. The next road adventure will be easier because I found my courage to begin. I noticed my vision board hanging in the garage. C S Lewis was wise, yes? What will you begin today?
Aging, Gift or Burden?
Perhaps it is the middle child syndrome that supports me in seeing many sides of a question. Perhaps it is curiosity about how the world and the living beings in it are organizing their lives. This past few weeks have been an interesting time of exploration as more and more I am spending time with one person at a time due to COVID-19. My world is diverse because I choose to nurture friends of all ages, many backgrounds, and energy levels. The different perspectives add color to my life and new thoughts and feelings to my days.
This is a tale of four friends. Their ages are 91, 81, 76, and mid 60’s. I am tempted to add a fifth who is 30, but these thoughts are about aging and 30 seems very young from my vantage point.
First, she is 91 and resides with her husband, who is quite ill and also 91, in assisted living. She has no real need for assisted living. She is youthful and filled with energy as she drives up to meet me for coffee. Her eyes are bright, there is pep in her step, and she is full of funny stories about her experiences both difficult and pleasant within her new community of the ill and aging. We rock and laugh and drink coffee and share the joy we have brought to each other. As we part, we talk of our plans for future outings, perhaps a walk in her new park to see the ducks. I chuckle as I find myself inspired by this ageless being. She is who I want to be when I grow up.
Second, he is 81 and we meet for an outside distancing lunch together. As I sit reading, I hear his voice call to me across the stretch of lawn. It has a musical lilt. His steps are filled with energy and he carries his usual folder filled with ideas he wants to share. He has traveled from another state and is visiting with neighbors from when he lived nearby. Both of us are instantly filled with the merriment of seeing each other. We jump from subject to subject and circle back to finish as the afternoon passes. He has developed a historical art piece, which he is presenting to other independent living facilities in his new neighborhood. He is planning a different kind of ski trip since he is not flying yet. Instead he will drive to Vermont three times this winter to live out his passion for skiing. He is so excited that it is contagious. We talk of my vision board, our grandchildren, what we are doing to stay healthy and active. It is late afternoon before we think to inquire about the time and I am already late. I text to say I am running late. As we part, we share how grateful we are for good health and a long life. I find myself smiling for no reason.
Third, he is 76 and we meet on Zoom for his birthday dinner. He has just had a small neighborhood birthday celebration, but he seems grumpy. As I listen, he complains about being pushed forward on the golf course and how angry he was and how rude they were. He calls Trump names and voices his dissatisfaction. I comment that civility without name calling is what I want for our country and why I am working for change in every way I feel appropriate. His sentences are peppered with swear words. He opens his birthday gift from me, which I felt would remind him of our shared time together earlier. It didn’t and he lays it aside saying he didn’t have one in his kitchen, which of course was why I chose it. He didn’t connect it to any previously shared experience. His energy becomes defensive so I tread lightly. As my energy takes on his, the conversation is stilted and superficial. As I left the call, my heart feels heavy and my energy level much lower. Days pass and we do not communicate. Then he texts to say how old he is feeling and being with young people for his birthday has left him seeing his age as a burden. His mood and activity have been low and so he has been distant. I text back offering support, which he thanks me for and says he is on the mend. I care about him, but find his lack of joy draining. I send him loving thoughts and head off into the sunshine to restore my own energy. The joy of nature sings in the trees and feels like a true gift at any age.
Fourth, he is in his mid-60’s. He is quiet and introspective. I want to listen. His words often inspire me to think deeply. We tease each other. We meet for an in-the-park breakfast with a mutual friend. Our conversations are serious and authentic about our different views of the world as we brainstorm about how to make a difference. Our conversations turn to books, memories, and the pain of physical separation. We share what we are doing to stay healthy and active in this most difficult time. There is a quiet feeling of comfort as seems the norm for me when the three of us meet. Although we speak of difficulty, our eyes are bright and our sharing hopeful. We take a short walk to nowhere in particular and laugh together in this unlikely group. When it is time to get on with our day, two of us head to see the river. The other heads off on errands to continue the building of his small grandchildren’s backyard cottage, which he has designed and built on his own during the last year. I stay on a bit with a feeling of gratitude for these friendships. As I drive away, I am grateful for our upcoming boating trip next week. The day glows with possibilities.
Now I will mention briefly my young friend. I do that in order to share how much we have grown since we met on an airplane some 6 or 7 years ago. At first our relationship from my perspective was of grandmother/grandchild and now this relationship has evolved to a friendship of equals. He is intelligent and curious about the world. If he thinks of me as old, he keeps that to himself. We explore, we laugh, we share our learnings and curiosities about life, and there is so much unspoken gratitude that we have each other’s friendship. We met at very different times of Life, but our love of learning does not waiver, and that is our bond. I rejoice at his youthful antics, and he seems enriched by our sharing.
One thing all of these people have in common is me. We are black and white, young and not as young. We are blessed with enough resources to live comfortably; we share good health. As I have met with so many different friends during this difficult time, some have talked of aging as a burden, while others view it as a gift and aging seldom comes up. It is one of the mysteries of this physical life that keeps me interested. Each of us have had our share of difficulty. Some have mourned and returned to joy; some have built shrines to the loss and continue to suffer. It seems the secret of living joyfully at any age is found in one basic choice; to see aging as a heavy burden or a miraculous gift. As I age and plan my future, I recognize that joy comes in this moment only. ‘Now’ is here always. What a gift.
This week has been filled with thoughts, thinking about thoughts, analyses of thoughts, discussions about thoughts and the reality of physical thoughts. Thoughts about the past, thoughts of present activities, thoughts of future plans and outcomes. Then yesterday I began to read a book by Rodney Blake, “Stepping Out of Self-Deception.” The book told the following joke: “…Once a young child asked his mother to imagine she was completely surrounded by tigers, with no weapon available, and nowhere to hide. What would she do? The mother hesitates, ponders the question, and replies that she has no idea what she would do. The mother then asks the child what he would do, and he replies, ‘I would stop imagining’.”
Immediately I began to laugh and was quickly brought into my present moment filled with reading, thinking, learning, and analyzing all of these areas of thought. Then there was little reason to ponder what to do next. I chose to stop thinking. The room became still. There was nothing to do, nothing to learn, nothing needed at all. There was just peace. Who could have imagined that? Perhaps a child enjoying life now.
Imagination and thinking are wonderful tools, but sometimes it is just great to rest in awareness and appreciation of Now.
Recently in response to a question about collective responsibility, I stated that I thought it was prudent that if I was to live my best life then I should support others in living their best lives. There were a lot of things going on within me at the time and so it took me a few days to remember what I had said. Today I heard the words and the energy behind what I had said. My heart hurt as I realized the arrogance of my statement.
Now with this morning’s wisdom, I am looking at the part of me that believes I know how someone else’s best life should look. Practicing the principles of Buddhism and mindfulness meditation, even though I am not sure I consider myself Buddhist, has enriched my life in many ways. Understanding the nature of reality in physical form to contain suffering and the cessation of suffering has liberated my joy in living. This sense of knowing how to live my best life and the conversations around practicing doing that have triggered many questions and continuing growth through self-inquiry. One of the questions that comes up for me during conversations with others who are practicing this same kind of path is an expressed belief that our awareness is greater than someone’s who is not following The Path. How do we not identify with a feeling of superiority or an implied sense of greater wisdom that belongs only to us? Often, I hear it said that if someone has a different level of awareness, we should not engage in a futile conversation. Is there not some arrogance in that? Of course, I have a strong feeling I am on the path of living my best life, but how do I create the humility that allows me to see that others may very well be doing the same?
I am wondering if anyone else has had these feelings and whether it would be a good idea to have a discussion along these lines
Appeal - August 2020
Close by is a neighborhood of mostly white urban family homes. My daily walking gives me an opportunity to observe this neighborhood daily. At times a shrub changes, a driveway is repaired, a wreath changes with the season. Lately it has been the growing number of “Black Lives Matter” signs. Signs that call my attention and gladden my heart. Yesterday as I strolled along a familiar street, the most beautiful of yards called to me. It is manicured to perfection; all the shrubs are symmetrical in size and shape and patterns of planting. It is not the first time it has caught my eye. From a distance it is beautiful. Each time though, as I get closer, it feels off putting. Prominently displayed among the green plants of many shades are a few signs that speak to me and trigger a feeling of unfriendliness.
The most problematic in this sweet neighborhood, is their sign that says, “We Believe In The Second Amendment.” It is in all caps and has a pistol displayed with a graphic that seems to indicate the gun is being fired. Alongside this sign, in this tiny yard, in this quiet neighborhood are multiple signs warning dog walkers and others that this is “our yard, keep off.” Is this what our founding fathers had in mind when they wrote the Second Amendment of our Constitution? I think not.
Please don’t misunderstand me. This family has every right to put whatever signs they want in their yard. We live in a democracy supported by many socialist systems that support and protect us: social security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment, public education, etc. But today as I walk by, my mind wonders who the target of these signs really is. Then today, a new sign was added. Filling a front window was a huge photo of Donald Trump smiling from ear to ear with only his mouth, and the sign-caption read, “Black Voices For Trump.” Since I am familiar with this family from many walks past their house, I know this is a white family. One house over and displayed by three other white families on three corners are Black Lives Matter cardboard signs. It feels like I am walking through two countries.
On the manicured, perfect lawn a professionally made metal sign with stick figures drawn in multiple colors says “All Lives Matter.” Each of these families is expressing publicly it’s views, and I feel gratitude that we live in a country that affords us this freedom. As I turn toward home, and trip over a toy on the sidewalk, it is clear deep within me which view appeals most to me. No one is truly free until we support rather than threaten each other. There can be no equality until those of us with white privilege acknowledge it and find the courage to heal our relationships with those our systems have harmed. Black Lives Matter. My vote this November will be cast for civility, integrity, diverse communities, understanding, and authentic sharing. Our collective views are so ingrained and to look inward with an intention to change what does not work will require a great deal of courage.
Let us begin.