The Rebirth of Light

It’s Solstice. We have candles burning. I’ve finished with the holiday baking and sending packages and holiday greetings. It’s time, now, to be quiet, letting go of planning, and enter being.

Solstice is an ancient holy day, long before organized religions, and often celebrated some deity who was born shortly after the Solstice. From out of the darkness, light was born from a Great Mother. The birth most of us are familiar with is that of Jesus, but for an interesting list, look here.

But the mother I think most about at this time of year is my own. I can see her, standing at the west window of the farm house, looking at the lilac bush, devoid of leaves, only scraggly branches, but it gave her a measuring rod.

In the few days leading up to the Solstice, Mother would go to the window and mark where the sun was through the branches. Each day, she would go at the same time, late in the afternoon, and check the Sun’s placement. As Solstice, she would stand longer at the window, because she knew the Sun would sit there for three days. She didn’t say anything, she just stood and looked. And on the third day, when the Sun began inching itself up again through the branches, she would smile and sigh.

It make me think, in my young years, it was because of my mother’s vigilance that the Sun returned.

It’s always a chance, a time for setting intentions for a new cycle, for a re-birthing into the light of our own lives.

So I wish you a happy and holy/wholly Solstice return of light. May your life and work be filled with the richness and peace that can be birthed for each of us, from darkness, and sometimes hopelessness, to hope.

Peace be with you. Peace be with us all. When we can live in hope and peace, when we offer that to all we meet, the light returns.

 

Always a New Crossroad

This photo is from Ocean City. I like the crossroad of land and sky and water. There’s an old couple who struggled together up the dune to look. They, too, are at a crossroad. I like to imagine they have come to the ocean for years on vacation and played in the surf. Now they stand and remember.

I’ve often stood at a crossroad. My crossroads usually read STOP on the side I can see, but the destination is written on the reverse side in ink fated to remain invisible for an unknown span of time. I stop, reconfigure, and head off somewhere, not knowing where or why I’m going, but trusting I’ll eventually understand.

You’ll see a page for Workshops. My college teaching ended, but I like teaching, so I’m glad it’s evolved.

The Services page offers us as presiders at weddings and memorial services. I’ve been a Spiritual Mentor/Counselor for more than twenty years, in person and through online consultations.

Feel free to wander with me.

Imagination

A post from Janet Taylor at the Temple Buddhist Center in Kansas City.

In our search for happiness, imagination is one of the most powerful tools available to us.  Stephen Batchelor has a wonderful chapter on imagination in his book Buddhism Without Beliefs.  In it, he describes that the three most important factors in mastering mindfulness and meditation are: 

  • First is commitment.  We make a conscious commitment to ourselves to devote time and effort to this worthwhile practice.
  • Second is technique. We study and practice the techniques of mindfulness and meditation in order to master them.
  • Third is imagination.  It might seem surprising that he would elevate imagination to such importance.  Why would we need to have imagination in order to awaken? 

 Why meditate in the first place?  Why care about learning mindfulness?  To relax? To de-stress? To find answers?  There are many different reasons to begin a meditation practice, all excellent motivators in their own way.  But one of the best motivators is our imagination.  We imagine that life could be different.  The first step in learning anything new is imagining that things could be different. 

When people get depressed, one of the most debilitating aspects is that they cannot imagine living without being depressed.  When we are in pain, it seems that we lose our ability to imagine life without pain.  We all get caught up in the experience we’re having, clinging to it with the unconscious assumption that things will never change.   And yet, it is possible.  In the midst of a difficult experience, in the middle of reacting in our old unskillful ways, we can remember to imagine how things might be different, we can awaken to the incredible experience of living beyond our limited thinking and feeling. 

How might we use our imagination as a powerful tool for passionately living life?  Here are some ideas to consider. 

First, we can recognize the ability to access imagination in each moment.  Each moment is sacred—not just the ones spent meditating.  Each moment.  We are creating our life moment- by-moment.  When we feel stuck in a certain situation or overwhelmed by the circumstances in our lives, we can remind ourselves to leverage the power of imagination to see clearly the breadth and depth of each situation, the possibilities beyond our limited way of thinking.  We are deciding moment-by-moment how to live.  Most of the time, we fall back on the easy answers, like what our parents did, or what our friends are doing or what we think we should do.  We might think of so many moments as just getting through life, doing what we have to do…

Rodney Smith, a Vipassana teacher, encourages us in the following way:  “We often feel our everyday existence is a distraction from our spiritual intention. When this happens, life is divided between the sacred and mundane, and the mind pits one concept against the other. But belief shapes reality, and if the belief is maintained that the sacred lies somewhere else other than Now, our spiritual life will be governed by that limitation.”  We can choose to see the sacred in each situation, know our practice is not separate from living in each moment, visualizing the vast, limitless resource of imagination that creates our experience.

Second, we can practice using imagination.  Our ability to think beyond our limitations is a learnable skill.  Visualizations can be a powerful part of the practice, like the loving-kindness practice that we do, or imagining ourselves as the Buddha.  These visualizations may at first seem corny or superficial, but that’s still a good place to start.  Buddhist teachers encourage us that, even without thinking anything is changing, we are planting seeds.  We know that a flower or plant begins to grow beneath the soil once it is planted, regardless if there is any change visibly seen.  So are the seeds of love and compassion calling forth the awakening of innate Buddha nature, just by the mere practice of imagining. 

Think of yourself as an artist.  Each of us is creating a life.  Each of us is writing the unfinished story of our life right now.  Each of us is making choices about how to live our lives right now.  The limitations that we think exist are in most cases, self-imposed.  Take a few minutes, and imagine all the possible ways that you might live your life from this point forward.  Think beyond your current circumstances, beyond any assumed limitations, beyond any self-imposed constraints, beyond, beyond.  With this willingness to stretch beyond our boundaries, each of us can more wisely choose the possible ways we could live life to its fullest. 

 Third, we can never run out of imagination.  Everyone feels down at times, we get sick, and get old, we feel scared and angry and frustrated.  But, the truth of our being is that there is a never-ending source of light within us.  We may feel angry, but we are not anger.  We may feel afraid, but we are not fear.  Thoughts and emotions are NOT who we are.  We can remember that we are pure awareness, we can imagine that we are love and compassion.  We can imagine being fully awake, fully present. 

This innate goodness within us is like the Sun.  The sun is always shining. It never stops. It doesn’t need something outside of itself to shine. It just keeps shining–no matter what. There may be clouds in the way, it might be nighttime, so we don’t see the Sun, but the Sun is still shining.  The light of our being is the same way.  It might be covered up or out of view, but it’s still there .  This unique point of awareness is always present in each moment.

Who or What is having this experience of living anyway?  Who or what is having these thoughts or feeling these feelings right now?  Who or what are you?  Loosen any certainty that you are a certain way, loosen the clinging to misconception that life must unfold in a certain direction, that living is limited to a few old emotions and recurring thoughts.    Imagine that you are not a thing or a body,  but rather pure awareness manifesting anew in each moment.  Imagine the possibilities.

Know that imagination is always available, in every moment, to every person. Access it, exercise it, strengthen it, leverage the power of it, use it as the fuel for our lives unfolding, and know the power it provides for transformation. 

In fact, we would not have this Buddhist path, these powerful teachings, if the Buddha had no imagination.  He would have not found a new answer, because he would not have imagined one to exist, and therefore would have not gone seeking a new way of living.  That’s the power of imagination.

The Art of Being in the Act of Doing

Up on the farm for a few days this week, I had time to stare out the window and be with the land and sky.  I began thinking about something a reader posted a few days ago in response to my line, “Who will we be when we are no longer who we are.” Her response was “perhaps we will just be rather than do.”

I thought about being and doing. What does it mean to BE human? If I remember my anthropology more or less accurately, the use of tools, and more to the point, the construction of tools, separates humans from primates. While primates use items they find as tools, a stick, for example, to dig grubs, they do not build tools. Humans build tools.

Early hunter/gatherers chipped flint for knives and spear tips; they made bags for gathering from animal skins or reeds; they formed and baked pottery. Humans have learned, and evolved, from doing; the history of civilizations comes from humans doing. The history of thought, on the other hand, comes from being – although the philosophers, and the mystics, still had to “do” the work of writing to tell us what they’d learned. Plato distinguished his “duality” of reality as existing between the world of “being” and becoming.” In order to “become” one must “do.”

I spend a lot of time being when I’m here on the farm. I gaze out the window across the tallgrass prairie. Nothing to see, really. Chin in hand, I lean against the desk, stare out the window. The only thing that moves are my eyes, following the swallows zigzagging across the ripe grass heads. Swallows eat insects, mid-flight, so I imagine that’s what they’re doing.

Yesterday, as I was hooking up the water to the camper, I saw a young bull snake about two foot long, lying stretched out in the grass beside a tree, its head raised and resting on a piece of bark. Sunlight polished black skin and picked up gold-brown shades that wrapped under its belly. It didn’t see me coming, but when I dropped the end of the hose, it whipped itself back into pleats, head up, wary. Perceiving no other threat, it slid up the trunk of the tree and disappeared.

I was sorry, then, to have disturbed it. It was cute, really, lying full length in the sun, its head tipped up as a sunbather might, except with no arms to cup under its chin. It was, quite simply, being a snake. Both in its resting and in its movement.

Where’s the balance between the stretched out black snake and this human who’s busy hooking up water? I suspect it comes by each of us finding the integration between the two verbs, “to be” and “to do” rather than eliminating one or the other.

I wonder if that’s also the balance point between Martha and Mary. At a moment in their story, Mary sits and listens to Jesus, absorbing what he teaches, and Martha scurries around preparing food for the people gathered. Jesus tells Martha that she’s worried about many things. And he reminds her one thing only is needed. Even while she is doing, she only needs to be. Be present. Right now. With what you’re doing rather than worrying and fussing that something more is needed.

Many of us are scurrying around these days, fussing about things that need doing. Or that others are or are not doing.

Nature once more gives the lesson: the swallows have to “be” present and conscious in their flight to catch insects, themselves in mid-flight. Watching swallows swoop and soar, circle and swoop, is a perfect example of integrating being and doing. Swallows have learned the balance. The young bull snake, balanced in its self of being, was able to react in the balance of doing.

When we are conscious of what we are doing, we are able to be present. Be still, the Hebrew scriptures say, and know I am God. In other words, while you are doing, be present to your essential self.

That is our constant lesson: to be present in what we are doing. For example, as you are reading and thinking right now, feel your breath and feel it expand your body and your consciousness. Feel how wide your essential self expands beyond the boundaries of your skin. Think of yourself as soaring, mid-flight in your life, in balance. Doing what you need to do in this particular moment. You might even find yourself smiling.

“There is need of only one thing.” And the overriding and necessary thing in the world today is balance. And when you are in balance, your spirit soars and the sun rests lightly on your polished skin.