Prayer of Care

December 27, 2013

Having some time off for the holidays is providing the opportunity to go deeper into my yoga and meditation. I am in my 50’s so the yoga is very gentle, but none-the-less, it does provide the opportunity for some soft and sweet moments of clarity and “perfection”. Perfection is in quotes because I don’t know if there is such a thing, and yet I want to connote a special experience that is pure.

Over the years of my life I have tried to learn about Zen and Buddhism in general. Practice was sporadic at best. Not a great deal of intention or commitment on my part. In my life now, the intention for meditating has increased and the commitment has become stronger. My style of meditation does not fall under a label or a school. I have gone a couple of times to a Center in the area that focuses on Meditative Inquiry. It is a very personal, non-scripted place. There are no “teachers”. there is no ritual. There is no transmission. All there is is Presence. Mindfulness. Now. Being.

This morning I listened to a meditation by Tara Brach.

At the end of one of her meditations she suggested offering a Prayer of Care. First to ourselves, then to the greater community, the world. Not unlike the Metta Loving Kindness meditation.

The idea resonated with something deep inside of me. The first, totally instantaneous thought for saying a Prayer of Care for myself was “openness”. Openness that includes being open to the moment, the sensations, thoughts and experiences of Now. To just be.

When Tara offered the opportunity to send out at Prayer of Care to the world, the words that came to mind were gentleness and kindness. Not very original, but genuine. I started getting caught up in the “words” themselves, and had to struggle a bit to let it go. Sometimes words are not complete in expressing the feeling, but they’re what we’ve got!

In the bigger picture, and taking the definition of the words at face value, I really liked the idea of a Prayer of Care.

Care: mend, repair, cherish, treasure, assist, help, look after, protect….

Prayer: appeal, request, adjuration…

Something about using the words ‘prayer’ and ‘care’ together clicked. Care. Caring. Isn’t that something we “should” always do and hold dear to our hearts? If we don’t care, what’s left?

So, I sent my Prayer for Care to myself and out into the world.

the_hand_of_buddha

(http://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/04/welcome-all/the-hand-of-buddha/)

Grateful

December 26, 2013

From the Daily Good, dailygood.org

Always be…grateful.

 

http://www.karmatube.org/videos.php?id=4460

 

Blessings.

 

Teacher

November 5, 2013

I think we all have someone, or many someones, who we would refer to as a “teacher”.

Maybe your kindergartner teacher comes to mind. Or your minister, therapist, boss, friend, grandmother, father….

Some of these are spiritual teachers, life teachers, vocational teachers, educational teachers. Teachers, teachers everywhere.

” A true teacher is someone who can offer us a map,

a question, an insight,

or simply a listening presence that sparks a fire in us. “

Joan Tollifson

I read something recently, and I will include the link at the end, that called into question the label of “teacher”, and the value, power, importance we place on that person. Sometimes we put them on a pedestal. Sometimes they put themselves on a pedestal.

But who IS a teacher? What is a teacher? How does someone become a teacher? Are we all teachers? Could we be? Should we be? Is a “teacher” finished being a “student”? Can they continue to learn from others?

What do you think? Who are the teachers in your life? What kind of teachers are they? Are they the kind of teacher that have some kind of piece of paper that says they are a “real” teacher, or have they become a teacher through life experiences? Do you view them as “different” from you, “better” than you, “smarter” than you? Do you regard them as someone “special” or “gifted”? Do you feel you could never be “as good a teacher” as they are?

Are you a “teacher”? To whom? About what? Do you think you’re “pretty special”? Do you feel as if you are a “student” too?

What happens when we stop being a student? What happens when we see ourselves as “above” someone else, or “better” than someone else?

I am a teacher and a student. Right now my most significant teachers are a group of three to six year olds. Sometimes I feel like they look up to me way too much, figuratively and literally, so I often sit on the floor. I am not smarter than they are. They teach me important things: “Just be kind” they say. To them that’s the answer. To almost any question they face.

I hope you have good teachers in your life. I hope you still see yourself as a student. If there is a pedestal involved I hope you can gently remove it.

“I’m not a teacher: only a fellow traveler of whom you asked the way.

I pointed ahead- ahead of myself as well as you.”

George Bernard Shaw

http://www.joantollifson.com/writing18B.html  Go to entry 10-30-13, scroll down

What The Hell Is Water?

June 22, 2013

Please just watch this.

http://www.christinecarter.com/community/blog/2013/06/friday-inspiration-this-is-water/

From a commencement speech.

Have a beautiful weekend.

I read this article a little while ago:

http://charterforcompassion.org/news-and-events/article/170

It made me sad and then it made me think: how many people do I make invisible by not “seeing” them? Why?

Have you ever walked along on the sidewalk and noticed someone just ahead of you walking towards you….and you look to the side or down when they pass? I have.

Have you ever thought about “what part of town” your walking through? Have you ever felt embarrassed looking at someone and kind of wishing they really weren’t there? I have.

Has your heart rate ever increased as someone approaches you? Have you ever crossed the street to avoid someone? Yes.

Are there people you come across during the day that you try to make “invisible”? Just like a child who covers their eyes so they don’t have to see something? Yes.

invisible_people_

Why do we do this? What do we fear? Where has the fear come from?

If we can find ways to see each other, to honor the existence of every being who co-inhabits this wonderful earth with us, if no young person ever has need to thank a stranger for merely seeing them, then we will have done a fine thing.”

A couple of years ago I was walking during lunch and notice two men near the corner where I was headed, engaged in a very animated conversation. It looked like they were laughing, but it was pretty intense. I could feel myself reacting, but I just kept going. With my eyes looking elsewhere. As I got closer I could hear snippets of the conversation  and it was about race. I tired to make them invisible. I was nervous. This is hard to admit even to a bunch of readers I don’t even know!! Then I heard it: “Let’s ask her”. I was her.

I had to look up, to make eye contact, to smile. One man said, “My friend and I here are having a conversation about people. He thinks you won’t hug me if I ask you to because I am black. What do you say? May I have a hug?”

What could I say? “Of course I will give you a hug.” And I did. He laughed and I got a great big bear hug. The other man asked why I had said yes. “Because he is just a person asking for a hug.” Inside I was realizing how hard that had been and was upset at all the reasons of why that were going through my mind. Irrational, stereotyped, fearful…so many negatives.

“Let’s interrupt old patterns of not looking into the eyes of “those people” (whoever they are to you). Let’s greet and acknowledge the folks we generally walk by or around and watch what happens.”

I got a hug.

Now I am mindful of my eyes, my body language, my thoughts and choices. I walk where I am going without thought of who I pass by. I hold my head up and look at people and smile. I say “Thank You”, and “Hi”, and “Have a good day”.  Yesterday I thanked the eye doctor for being open on Saturday. I take for granted places are open on Saturdays. I thanked the man who was sweeping the sidewalk and his face lit up. I thanked the grocery clerk bagging my groceries. I tell the cranky parking attendant “thank you” and wish her a good evening. I am committed to making the people I make invisible, visible.

Years ago when I worked downtown there was a young man who participated in the programs of our mental health clinic. He was physically not healthy. He received services for mental illness. He was someone who could easily be made invisible, and many people in fact did not see him. But he was happy. He laughed, he smiled. He tried to engage people in conversation. Generally they did not see or hear him. I began to respond to him. I had short conversations with him about the weather, the trash, whatever he brought up. One day I noticed that wherever I seemed to be in a 2 or 3 block area downtown, every time I came near a door, he was there. To open it for me. One day I said something about it and he said “I like to do this for you. You’re nice to me. You don’t have to be but you are.”

There is another woman named Caroline. She also struggles with mental health issues. Some days she doesn’t do so well: you can see it in the way she dresses, the way she grooms herself. On “better” days she initiates eye contact. I invited her to sit and have coffee with me sometimes. We had nice little conversations. Sometimes  even just the next day she wouldn’t even recognize me. One day in our local bookstore Caroline walked in. The owner greeted her and she handed him a small pile of books and thanked him. He smiled at her and said something and they laughed  The woman I was with asked him who she was and why she had given him books. He told my friend Caroline’s story and said he lent her books to read, commenting that she was a very bright person going through difficult times. He said she loved to read but couldn’t buy books and couldn’t get a library card. My friend said something like, “I would have never guessed.” Caroline was someone who was easy to make invisible.

“If we can find ways to see each other, to honor the existence of every being who co-inhabits this wonderful earth with us, if no young person ever has need to thank a stranger for merely seeing them, then we will have done a fine thing.”

There is so much fear, distrust, apprehension, suspicion about “others” these days…………there are lots of invisible people out there. Do you have any? If you don’t, do you still have a responsibility to help others see these people who are just folks waiting for a hug, a cup of coffee, a short conversation, a kind word, a smile, or a good book to read?

Let’s accept this invitation:

“Here’s my invitation to you: let’s take a month and intentionally notice those we would normally not see. Let’s interrupt old patterns of not looking into the eyes of “those people” (whoever they are to you). Let’s greet and acknowledge the folks we generally walk by or around and watch what happens.

So let’s say “Hey” to someone new tomorrow. I’ll bet we have conversations that surprise us. I’ll bet we learn something new.”

” Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Gandhi

garlands in india

In cultures where flower garlands are used, the garland maker chooses the flowers not only for their color and fragrance, but also for their meaning and sentiment.

“Fashion your life as a garland of beautiful deeds.”

What if we put purposeful thought into how our lives were being “fashioned”? What if, instead of making our garland of flowers, we created ours out of beautiful deeds? What would your garland look like? What would you want it to look like? How much effort do you put into your thoughts about the kind of life you lead? How much thought would you put into choosing beautiful deeds that reflected you and your life choices?

What beautiful deeds have you already done in your life? What ones are currently ongoing? What ones do you envision or hope to happen in the future? How long will your garland be? What colors will we see? Will we know the names of the deeds, or will they be private, hidden and known only to you or those you initiate into this part of your life?

kindndess sign

It’s a New Year. The perfect time to start a fresh garland of good deeds. Give value to doing one act of kindness each day. Maybe let the world know in a small way: a sentence on facebook, a short tweet. See what happens. Take action on that urge we all have to help someone out, to be kind with no thought of personal gain. Many times these feeling are spur of the moment, but you can plan ahead too. Make a little list if it helps.

Watch as your garland grows. Watch as the beauty of it begins to reflect on your face with a warm glow. Watch how your life changes as you complete each good deed, each act of kindness, and bring someone else a small moment of joy.

Have a Happy New year!

2013

2013 is around the corner. With it’s arrival comes the opportunity (a favorable or advantageous circumstance or combination of circumstances) for a fresh start. If you want to choose that path.

The tradition of making a New Year’s resolution is 4,000 years old! Ancient Babylonians made promises to start the New Year off on the right foot in order to earn the favor of the Gods. The “New Year” wasn’t always observed in January because a month called “January” didn’t always exist! It originally was the Spring Equinox celebration. Spring being a natural time to think of fresh starts, beginning anew. Throughout history different “leaders” have changed it from one date to another. Many religions and cultures still celebrate a different date for the New Year.

I think many of us would chuckle thinking about resolutions we have made and kept! My record isn’t very good!

However, this year it really struck me what the potential might be, if we could make changes that would provide a fresh start to parts of our lives. What if we took advantage of this quaint custom and did turn it into an opportunity?

Recent events have led many of us to reevaluate all kinds of things. Personally I found myself thinking deeply about living more in the present and letting go of past angers, disappointments, and focusing more on simply being kind.

While I still hope to “give up” a few things, I have decided to focus on “doing”.

My priority this year is to be kind. In big ways and small ways.

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”

Dalai Lama

aesop kindness

I don’t think there is a skill to being kind. It’s in all of us. It may be buried, or other responses and actions might be stronger, but it is in us.

I have been working on kindness a little bit this year. I have had some successes, but many more surprises.  I am always surprised how quickly I respond with frustration to things beyond my control. That frustration is a form of anger. I can feel my body change when it surfaces. When my body changes because my mind changes, it all becomes a spiral of downward momentum. Then I have a difficult time getting free from it.

Hand in hand with being kind comes being present and being in the here and now, not in the past or future. And that is even harder. I carry disappointments, frustrations, worries from work home with me every day. Sometimes it takes me days to digest them and let them go. I am always thinking and planning one step ahead so I am “prepared”. How can that be bad? Being prepared? But somehow it does fuel the anxiety. If I am being kid to myself, which is the first step to be kind to others, why do I worry, become anxious over things that I have managed to take care of for years and know they are not a big deal? Is it all in the wording……the wording my mind chatter loops endlessly around in my head? Why can’t it just be: “I will stop at the grocery store.”, rather than: “I have to stop at the grocery.”  Have to, have to, have to, have to. I will focus on making statements with little or no value regarding things that are……no good or bad, no judgement. Just a fact. By adding the word “have” it becomes a chore or burden.

So I will focus on being present in this one moment. I will be kind, kinder, kindly. I will begin with myself. I will change the mind chatter in my head. I will reach out to others and simply be kind. This is a New Year, a fresh start. I have this opportunity to start over, and allow the kindness that is already inside of me be stronger and more present.

try kindness

 
“Our job is to love others without stopping
to inquire whether or not they are worthy.
That is not our business,
and in fact, it is nobody’s business.
 What we are asked to do is love,
and this love itself will render both ourselves 
and our neighbors worthy, if anything can.”
Thomas Merton

As we gather together in the soft darkness of the Solstice we are reminded there are rhythms and cycles that move without thought to us humans. As we embrace  families and friends singing out greetings of peace and Faith, let us also remember we have a calling to love one another, every single person, without stopping. There is no pausing to regard if they are worthy.

What we are asked to do is love.

There is a lot of talk and thoughts about those who have, and those who have not, those who are  deserving, and those who are not, those who are “good” and those who are “bad”, those who are “right” and those who are “wrong”. In amongst all that, it feels sometimes that we have lost the capacity to love, to accept, to help heal, to forgive and to be tolerant and have decided to walk  instead with fear, mistrust,  isolation, apathy.

What we are asked to do is love.

metta

“We do not exist for ourselves.” Thomas Merton

“The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.” Thomas Merton

I certainly struggle with this. But, I struggle more with the thought of violence, of turning a blind eye, of pretending to know which is the one, right path.

This is the time of year when many of us turn inward. A time of reflection. Also, a time of looking forward. Many customs of the Solstice and New Year include a letting go of the past and a cleansing of the heart and spirit for the future.  While we can never be sure of the future, we can, and this moment, open up our hearts and love. It’s not our business to judge. Everyone struggles and falls. What we are asked to do is love. At this moment.

http://www.merton.org/chrono.aspx

 
 

“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”

Ernest Hemingway

How well do you listen to others? We know we listen with our ears! And people talk about listening with their hearts, but do you listen with your other senses? What more can you “hear” when you isolate that sense and close your eyes? What do you “hear” by observing body language? What do your eyes “hear”? What do you “hear” in the pauses, the silence, the in between moments when thoughts are collected? What do you “hear” when your hand is wrapped in another hand, or resting on a shoulder and the skin feels cool, or warm, or twitches? What do you “hear” through the sense of smell?

I work with young children. When the first snow of the season falls, it is always a moment of magic for them. When the snowflakes are big and heavy and there is a glittering layer of diamond snow already on the ground, we go outside to “hear” the snow fall. Really!! For a few moments the children themselves are frozen. Then their eyes light up and they smile!! Have you ever heard snow falling?

When we practice listening, totally, using all our senses and all the things we know and have learned about one another, we HEAR differently. And we have an opportunity to be invited into a very personal and private place of the person we are listening to. The place we can only get to through respect, patience, kindness, listening……a place where maybe there are not even any words to hear.

I think Hemingway was talking about listening to words and the sounds of the world around him. There is no question about good listening skills being a valuable tool. When we learn how to become a complete listener, we will, as Hemingway says, learn a great deal about the other person, about ourselves and about the world around us.

Recently we were in Bloomington, Indiana visiting our daughter who is beginning graduate school at Indiana University.

All around town were billboards with the IU logo on a crimson background and simple white letters that offered these six words:

Work hard.

Have fun.

Be kind.

This past week, at work, I was sitting at our morning Circle Time with 15 three to six year olds. We were reviewing important to things to remember as individuals in a classroom community. We covered many of the basics; walking feet, indoor voices, washing hands, etc.  Soon to be kindergartner Leo raised his hand with another thought. When I called his name, he put his hands out in front of him, palms up, raised them slightly and said:

“Just be kind.”

Indiana University and a five year old say kindness is important, so it must be true.  Kindness counts. Practice  kindness today and every day:

http://www.randomactsofkindness.org/kindness-ideas