Your Brother’s Keeper

Friday of the First Week of Lent

“You are your brother’s keeper,” is one of those lines that can choke us.

And yes, we are.

In other words, our human relationships are as important as our spiritual ones.

In today’s gospel reading from Matthew, Chapter 5, Jesus teaches his disciples about the importance of human relationships. It’s not enough to be like the Pharisees, a select brotherhood, “admitting only those who, in the presence of three members, pledged themselves to the strict observance of Levitical purity,” according to the Jewish Encyclopedia. Jesus indicated that all are our “brothers” and all deserve reconciliation.

It’s like The Pointer Sisters sang, so many years ago, “We are family….” all the sisters and brothers.

Sometimes relationships have to end. That’s clearly so. But we do not have to cut that person our of our hearts. We can still reconcile from our feelings of hurt or betrayal and remain separate physically.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean whatever happened is okay. We don’t have to let hurt back into our lives. Forgiveness and reconciliation means we clear our hearts of the hurt so we can live clearly. Forgiveness means we can put down the heavy yoke of judgment and breathe.

Which yoke do you need to remove from your shoulders?

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Get Out the Post-Its

Each day, WordPress sends out an email with a writing prompt. On Fridays, they send out photo prompts. You, dear readers and watchers, have seen some of my photos from the prompts. But until today, I hadn’t taken up any of the writing prompts although I had saved several of them to think about.

Today’s, interestingly enough, was “just what I needed” a phrase many of you have said to me after reading one or another of my posts–whatever I said was something you needed to hear. Today’s from WordPress filled that slot for me.

The prompt, although perhaps not exactly the way it went out so I won’t use quote marks, said to find a safe place to stop, decide how long you can keep your eyes closed, close your eyes and count, and write about what comes up.

Meditating is something I’ve done a fair amount of although not lately, so I decided, 150, I could do that. I’d never counted during meditation before but I did; and an interesting outcome of that was my mind had something to do. I’m a counter. I count when I’m kneading bread; I count when I’m swimming or exercising; I count when I’m walking. I count. That’s what I do.

Somewhere around 100, my mind went to sets of fours–four slow counts to breathe in, four slow c0unts to breathe out–and I sort of lost track of the numbers, but what came to me, loud and clear, is how seldom I stop. Just stop.

Much of the time, because there’s so much that needs doing, I’m multi-tasking and moving from one need to another and back again so as not to waste any time. Too many things are constantly clamouring for my attention. I know that’s also true for many others. You, perhaps. In the midst of multi-tasking, I still remember to breathe and drop my shoulders–I’ve had a lot of practice in those habits–but I seldom, as I said, stop.

Years ago, when I practiced changing the chatter in my head, I put post-its all over on which I’d written, “Trust.” And I practiced saying trust over and over until I’d formed new neural pathways in my brain and worry no longer took over my mind.

Stopping is something that needs practice. When Cliff and I married, in part of my vows to him I said, “…when you tell me to stop, I’ll stop.” And everyone there laughed. But I meant it–and sometimes, he does. But it seems that I’m now being told that stopping is something that needs practice in my life.

I guess it’s time to pull out the post-its.

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Vertigo

A poem from Monique Pasternak, a traveler, a student,  a teacher, guided to go discover the eye of the hurricane as it lands on the path of blessings.

                   VERTIGO

When overbearing reason reigns unrivaled,

it fragments the fullness of moons

commits entire universes to neglect

and compromises the vitality of our fairest nights.

Ruthless it shoots on disclosed yearnings,

bangs hard into pregnant longings,

calls for legions of biting minds

to bulldoze under tender whispers,

crush emerging blooms of spirit,

tear serene webs of light,

slay depth of breath,

bury one more song.

When the Source of life lies forgotten

lands turn barren, hearts shrivel

souls wander off,  aimless.

Do not reach  inside the vanity case

of shallow reasons and futile controversies,

the time is getting late. 

Rather go a’tumbling in your  heart,

its mighty tides will thrust you naked

upon the shore where hope rides the light

that moves the earth and fuels the sun. 

A moment greets you only once,

renew each day :

if it is your last, make it your first,

your becoming breathes you.

In the likes of my song feel God’s kiss

in yours, become the kiss

walk on, walk on through

the wheels are turning faster now.

Be right or be wrong

yet be all the better for it; 

when we feel lost,  we can be found

vertigo spins the blessing,

move on,   fear not.

            m.pasternak  Jerusalem, January 2005

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.