"The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away."
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But something had happened! Change had happened. I had acknowledged that some would perceive me as an elderly woman, and some might even be frightened by my appearance. It was a present moment experience of both my bruised ego and of my deeper understanding that I am so much more than a body that looks like this “old woman.” Our Sangha’s “mindfulness of the body study” came to mind, and my meditation took on a whole new depth. This body has served me well. It has brought into this realm of physical Life a shared strength, creativity, compassion, love, courage, and yes, sometimes suffering.
Mary Oliver says it best: “I was born here, and I belong here, and I will never leave.…” As I sat in wonder at the mystery of all Life, and considered the elements that make up my body and everything else, the truth of this beautiful poem was clear to me. Mary Oliver goes on to write, as only the language comimg through her body can, “…a little while and then this body will be stone; then it will be water; then it will be air.” Life is ever changing and the body that carries it will take many forms that are impermanent. I remember clearly when I was in a child’s body, bouncing around uninhibited and free. Filters were just a thing in the heating system. This deeper understanding of the nature of Life brings me comfort as this “work in progress;” at this moment, this body is that of an elderly woman and so much more. In fact, some would observe that I am still bouncing around and free. Working on my politeness filters still.
With a sense of gratitude for all the Life I saw surrounding me, my soaring spirit rose and walked into my day with a humble understanding that sometimes what we see is just the tip of what is truly there. May we all experience the freedom of impermanence and cherish ourselves and each other in whatever body we find ourselves for we are all so much more! So Much More! This morning Bob, my friend and teacher, reminded me that the “more” is boundless. _________________ The Search For Freedom (10 September 2021)For as long as I can remember, I have searched for freedom. As a quirky middle child, it seemed there were always rules that did not and should not apply to me. So I sought the comfort of old trees and poured out my heart of hearts to their accepting arms. My first major search for freedom was an escape from the limiting religious beliefs of a fundamental Christian family. Then I searched for freedom by studying about the cultures of the world. Without being conscious of my motivation, I sought freedom by marrying an older kind-sweet man. Freedom was not the only reason for marriage, but at 19 years old, it was certainly a factor in retrospect. I sought freedom from a job to care for my children, and then I sought a job to widen my world of childrearing. At 46, I sought complete freedom by leaving my husband and venturing out into the world on my own. What I found is that situational freedom comes with costs and karma (cause and effect) associated with each choice.
To talk about every search for freedom I have taken, would fill a book. The searches have been mostly amazing and at other times most difficult. Each search has brought me closer to knowing myself, and each experience has come with a lesson I needed in order to live without suffering (a belief that the world should be different). Which brings me to today’s advancement toward freedom.
The rocks I have collected over the years have decorated my home, been blessed and given as gifts, stacked creatively to make cairns, became rock gardens in sand, and adorned my meditation table. They have been collected from many parts of the world, which I have been fortunate to visit. Some came as gifts from others who knew how much I loved rocks. In some unspoken way, these rocks symbolized permanence in a world of impermanence. This year as I made “skillful effort” the focus of my practice of Buddhist principles, it supported me in seeing the wisdom of going through this physical existence a bit lighter. As fall approaches and my yearly cleaning-out ritual begins, it has become clear that it is time to send some of my rock collection back into nature.
Today, that process began in earnest. With one rather sizeable rock and six others of various sizes, I headed out to distribute them as thank you gifts to the Rivanna River, which has been my home away from home during the recent COVID seclusion. Removing them from the small bag I made some 50 years ago to carry my son’s matchbox cars, it seemed like a sacred process was beginning. Standing there between the wooded area and the River, I placed six rocks in a row on a dead limb and dropped the heavier one on the River bank. The sun glistened on the water and my heart felt light. As I named a loved one and asked that they be free of suffering, I threw a rock into the River. Depending on the size of the rock, the ripples danced around the spot where the rock reconnected with nature. An old fisherman stood on the bank and a young woman sat on a rock in the middle of the River. Both spoke of peace and silence. A breeze rippled the air around me. With each throw, my feelings of well-being grew. The rocks were beautiful to me as they soared through the breeze in search of freedom.
My idea of freedom has changed drastically as I continue to practice the Four Noble Truths. This practice teaches me not to believe a certain action will make me free of suffering. As the Buddha taught, “Try an action for yourself, if you suffer less follow the teaching, if not let it go.“ What I have come to know for sure is that freedom is not dependent on external factors like the ones I sought to leave earlier in Life. Freedom is a state of being based on skillful living during both pleasant and difficult experiences. Being human, the amount of freedom I experience is different on different days. Skillful effort is more complex than I imagined at the beginning of 2021. It is not about only when or where to make effort, it is about pausing to see clearly what is true in this moment and then my action is more grounded in wisdom; or as I see it, skillful effort without attachment to an outcome.
The freedom I now seek is a joyful Life lived without judgment. Being human, I know this is not possible every minute of every day, and so I am free to be compassionate for those moments when I forget that seeing clearly is the first step toward freedom in each moment. As I continue my journey, and my need for more and more stuff recedes, and I downsize yet again, my sense of freedom grows. Today as I turned from the River a dog jumped into the water. I stopped to watch. Freedom examined. As I turned to climb the steps back to the park, a chalk message was written on the steps: “Have a great day; live who U R; U R Beautiful inside….” Today I released part of a lifetime rock collection, and I carried the rocks in a treasured cloth bag I have had for many years. Perhaps someday in the future a small child will need this treasured bag to hold their beloved belongings and I will freely let it go. But not today! _______________________