Being and Doing

See the lilies of the field

This is the line that came to me as I realized my life was pretty simple today, the to-do list more or less caught up (so, okay, I haven’t refinished the dining room chairs), and I didn’t quite know what to make of it. Yes, there are weeds to pull in the garden after all this rain, but that’s an always rather than a to-do. And yes, I could spend the day clearing out the large box of photographs in the other office, but that’s such a big task I haven’t even put it on any list.

Late May into early June was pretty chaotic and busy with to-dos sticking out all over the place, rather, do-this-right-now! sorts of things and visitors and family gatherings and a film job and a trip to the farm to open it up and plants that needed ground instead of seedling pots. Last week was catch up on naps and editing for publications and more naps and nursing a troublesome knee injured in all the aforementioned too many things to do. I know all of you have had your own chaotic weeks and times and surgeries and trips and family.

But this week is simple. And I realized as I sat here this morning, I didn’t quite know what to do with no pressures forcing me into action. I’d done a lot of doing but not much being. Today is a day for being.

It’s an interesting verb, to be. Most of the time, another word tags along: I am busy, I am tired, I am angry, frustrated, happy, sad. We don’t take much time for the simple I am. And I’m probably not alone when I don’t quite know what to do with it.

Now there’s an interesting idea – being alone with being. Are we alone when we simply be? Or is the simple act of being where we are most filled?

I’m reminded of another line, one I wrote in an essay edited again yesterday: “Perhaps it’s only in waiting that something so tremulous can come into being.” 

Waiting is not one of my strongest characteristics.

Perhaps your day is also a day of waiting, of pausing in the breath of moments. I’ve heard no sirens this morning. Perhaps, even with a cloudy sky, we are all held in a moment of peace. I suspect the task is in recognizing peace and allowing it to be part of our day.

We could all use some practice in remembering how to be grateful for the times of calm. I want to remember today as I go about the hours. I want to remember that being is more important that doing, at least for right now. And right now is all we have.

Today is a day to pull out the gratitude list and add to it rather than add to the to-do list. Today is a day to practice being.

 

 

  

 

The Eye of the Needle

I’m looking for the eye of the needle again. That small opening in my chest, my consciousness, that allows me to lift myself out of the press of the moment and feel aligned with my life and purpose. Now there’s pretty big words – the bottom line, I suppose, is that yesterday I spent the entire morning getting out query letters. I’ve been trying to sell a book manuscript, and after each pause in the process of querying, I’ve revised once again, honed once again, gone at it again. A valuable process. And today, after a long day yesterday of extending myself with letter writing and four hours of teaching last evening, I’m tired – and being tired often leads to discouragement.

Ah. There’s the word. Discouraged. I knew that if I sat here with the laptop humming and the words writing themselves, I’d finally come to the issue.

What to do with discouragement? What to do with a heavy chest that longs for a crack into believing?  What comes to mind is that I’m not alone. I expect the feeling is often general these days. The to-do lists are too long. The unfinished business too massive, the struggles beyond easy repair.

The thing is, I’m not alone. I know that. All I have to do is think “Gulf” and in my mind’s eye, I see the animals struggling in oil messes, the people cleaning beaches that won’t stay clean, the turtles, fish, birds, fishermen, boats, tools, water caked in oil. My struggles are nothing compared to that. So why doesn’t my chest lighten up?

When confronted by the demons of self-doubt, I usually pick up a book. This morning, I picked up a book about Hawaiian legends. The manuscript I’m selling is set in Hawaii, so I this Hawaii legends book is handy most of the time.

The passage I just read has to do with Duke Kahanamoku, an Olympic champion swimmer and world-class surfer. “Anyone who surfs knows that when surrounded by the strength of the sea, you are on your own. There is a time in our lives when each of us is provided an opportunity to rise to new heights of expertise through a confrontation with self-doubt.”

Well. I smiled for the first time this morning and the needle’s eye-opening cracked just a bit wider. Duke went on to say, “It was more as though the wave had selected me, rather than I had chosen it.”

And I remembered that the experience of going to Hawaii and the ensuing healing chose me. Whether or not the book gets published, the experience happened and it changed my life. The other experience came from writing the book and all I learned in the process. And the needle’s eye in my chest stretches wider. (If you’re wondering what happened? what happened? you can go to www.janetsunderland.com and click on Writings. Part One of Standing at the Crossroad is attached.)

Interesting, isn’t it, that “completion” can take a turn where we least expect it and the crossroad clearly marked turn here.

Fixing

A head-line in the two-week old “Week in Review” from the New York Times stacked beside my reading corner because I hadn’t had time to finish the paper read, “Our Fix-It Faith” and went on to detail how American’s faith in technology to always fix whatever problems civilization faced was being seriously tested in the Gulf oil spill. That faith in technology to fix is the same faith we seem to carry in fixing everything: work related problems, our bodies, a computer, a car,  and especially relationships. We fix. The problem is that the dedication to fixing seems in direct opposition to accepting our being in the world.

No, I’m not suggesting that the oil spill and the destruction it has caused has to be accepted. That’s not my point. I’m thinking instead of the idea that our faith resides in fixing.

In many ways, the fixation on fixing denies the actuality of being. Things break. And thinking, or assuming something can be fixed leads to carelessness. We are careless with our human relationships and careless in the way we treat the natural world. Our automobiles encase us in technology, so we’re not aware of the other humans on the highway; our computers encase us in connectivity and ideas so we are not aware of our bodies; our houses with air-conditioning and home entertainment centers and safety devices and alarms have disconnected us from our neighborhoods. Technology has created a bubble of protection that denies breaking, except for the realization that the technology needs repair from time to time. But we deal with that. It’s an annoyance but we deal. We get it fixed.

The ocean depths, on the other hand, are dark and unknown. We know more about the far outer reaches of space, millions and millions of miles away, than we do about the sea floor seven miles beneath water. Seven miles! The deepest part of the Pacific is only seven miles below the surface.

There lies the abyss and we have no idea what it is or how to think about it.  On the earth or in ourselves. When you leap into the abyss, you don’t get second chances.

Maybe that’s why “God” came to live in the sky in human consciousness. There was lots of space and, okay, lightning strikes and floods and hurricanes from time to time, but no dark abyss. The “she” of earth, the dark, mysterious, gestating body, felt entirely too intimidating. Humans could fix the surface but going deeper takes a lot of effort.

Maybe that is why we fix. Fixing is a lot simpler than the depth of consciousness necessary to see the natural world as sacred. Humans are part of the natural world. And the natural world dies. Slowly, in some cases, but the natural world dies. Technology transforms into new ideas but it doesn’t die. Perhaps our faith in technology, and our lack of faith in other humans, comes from the same dynamic.

Mending the World

Every morning I sit with my journal and write my life: the to-do list for the day, the accomplishments of the day before, dreams, memories, thoughts, fears, physical struggles. It’s a practice I’ve had for many years – almost forty! I just realized – and fed by many teachers I’ve known through their writing: Doris Lessing, Natalie Goldberg, Julia Cameron.

This morning as I was writing my ever-expanding-do-this-right-now! list, I felt a growing anxiety in my chest. I stopped. I breathed. Breathe, Janet, breathe. It will all come together. I picked up a current favorite teacher, Rabbi David A. Cooper.

“Each time we do something that raises consciousness, we lift sparks of holiness to new levels. This is called tikkun ha-nefesh, mending the soul, and tikkum ha-olam, mending the world, bringing it closer to its source.”

Ah. The task once more of mending the world is by redirecting my own consciousness into peace. Waaaaa waaaaa waaaaa. That’s what it always comes back to. I laughed, and laughter and consciousness are like an electrical charge, infusing the holy into everything.

“Once we enter a holistic frame of reference in which all parts are complete and are replicas of the whole, then everything in the universe, by definition, is integrally connected.”

I am once more thrown back into the “circle of my arms” as I wrote in an earlier post. I can only change this world – mend this life – offer that peace to everything I can do. And of course, that means being conscious of my actions and where I step.

But by that simple action of changing my frame of reference by breathing and releasing the anxiety I was feeling, I was able to return to being. Simply being silent and observing the world around me. This morning, the sky is a blue backdrop to the deep green of trees outside my window and the morning light slants in golden from the east. A breeze ruffles the top of the weeping willow. Yes, sure, the day may bring heat and humidity, but at the moment, out my window, there’s a silent glory. No sirens this morning, at least not yet; the birds in the thicket along the fence are even quiet.

For a moment, for this little window of consciousness, all is right with my world. That’s the consciousness I want to carry with me through the tumble of today’s tasks, and the reminder I want to give myself: stop and look and consider and breathe.  

I imagine there must be people in the world right now who aren’t pushed to the limits of their understanding and patience. I don’t know any of them, but there must be. I want to pretend I’m one of them. I want to remember that the world isn’t ending, at least not quite yet, and the tasks will either get completed today or another day. I want to remember to laugh and do my part to heal the world. Even if the world is as small as the circle of my two arms.

Faces and Hearts

There is a brokenness /out of which comes the unbroken/a shatteredness/out of which blooms the unshatterable. – Rashani

I’m reading a friend’s book: Losing Face by Kathy Torpie. I knew Kathy in Hawaii when we both lived and worked at Kalani Honua in 1993 and found her again recently through Facebook. A surprise and a gift. She uses the poem by Rashani in her book and relates the story of how she regained her face, shattered in an accident, and renewed herself after being hit head on by a drunk driver. She’s spent the intervening years since with surgeries and recovery.  

Here’s a sentence I underlined in the early pages: “Every day every one of us puts on a ‘face’ for the world, hiding the unacceptable from view.”

I began wondering why I often define myself as wearing many hats and changing them often, sometimes with blinding speed. And I wondered if by changing hats, I’m also changing the face I present.  Am I hiding something “unacceptable from view” with that action or have I simply lost track of which face goes with which hat?

The press and tumult of our lives right now often feels like being faced with a constant barrage of drunk drivers, but so far, no one I know has completely crashed and burned. I see it in the news: the Gulf Coast is being hit with a force so devastating and so big it may not recover for many years; men have died in the crush of mine accidents; people continue to sicken and die in Hati; earthquakes rumble around the world regularly; and Wall Street, acting like a drunken driver, is speeding its way into another crisis. 

It’s a daily gift to sit here quietly in the morning, beside my window, and gauge the day.

Although here’s an interesting realization – even in my writing I put on a face – the face of the spiritual blogger, the spiritual teacher. THE ONE WHO IS WISE. Well, that’s probably not necessary in caps, but you get the idea. Is that face any different from the one I live inside?

Years ago, when I could affect such things as face wrinkles, I noticed that frown lines were forming between my eyebrows. So when home, I stuck a piece of Scotch Tape between my eyes so I’d notice when I frowned and train myself to stop doing it. I managed to avoid deep wrinkles between my eyebrows that way, but I didn’t stop them from moving elsewhere.  But I also know, from looking at old head shots, that my eyes were more angry and frightened in those days than they are now.

I suspect the heart is where face begins. When a heart is happy and at peace, the face reflects happiness and peace. The converse is also true.

Kathy Torpie is far more physically courageous than I will ever be, and rather than telling her story again, I’d suggest you get her book, but what I know from a recent long phone conversation is that her heart is also peaceful now.  She entered her darkness and rebirthed. 

I don’t quite know what to call these days we live in although I know there’s a huge component of darkness and despair, fear and its attendant, anger; it’s often beyond knowing how one reaches to switch on the light and see emotions and fears clearly. But that seems to be our work each day: to focus on our heart and know the feeling in our heart is reflected on our face.

Dr. Oz, the famous heart surgeon, says there’s a ganglia of nerves that attach to a spot on the heart. Over many years, I’ve read spiritual teachers who have said the same regarding the heart chakra. In other words, both physically and energetically, the heart could be said to be our primary teacher. Listen to it. Breathe into it. Treat it kindly. Enter the darknesses that face you and allow your heart to lead you through.

Imagine the world we could make if our faces reflected a happy heart.