Walking on three legs

I took a brief walk in the park the other day.

The wind whipped leaves past my feet, a frigid blast taking my breath away. But the sun was shining. I was happy to be outside, to feel comforting warmth on my face.

Step by step I meditated and prayed, my usual practice when I walk.

What filled me this time, however, was a tsunami of dread and fear. As a sensitive and creative spirit, I pick up energies. And those of the world have flooded me lately, so much so that I feel I am drowning.

I do what I can to balance what I call the “negatives” that I’m absorbing. I wake without media of any kind. I play soothing music, then meditate, pray and send love to the world, to those in need. I write. And when I can, I walk.

fear-of-love-7-21Still, as I walked that day, I kept wondering why we are in such turmoil on the planet right now. Why we can’t seem to find balance or at least respect for one another. Why I’ve been feeling and sensing so much hate that has left me depleted and exhausted.

And why we can’t see that fear and hate just don’t work, that when you come down to it, we’re all connected as part of one human family, God’s family.

All spiritual traditions teach us to love one another and Jesus said “Love your neighbor as yourself.” In truth, I feel he meant something quite different. I believe he meant “Love your neighbor because that person IS yourself.”

I kept walking, a few folks with dogs passing by. In the distance a young woman approached with a black dog on a leash, running in abandon before her. As they came closer, I could see the dog was hobbling. He had three legs.

They stopped and he approached me, panting, tail wagging, full of unbridled joy, wanting to be petted.

dog-sunset“He’s wonderful,” I said. “What’s his name?”

The woman smiled.

“Brody. He’s a rescue and I was told he was born this way.”

I gave Brody more love said goodbye and continued my walk.

Brody held no strong opinions, no judgment, no “poor-me-I-have-no-leg” attitude. Brody was simply running on three legs with delight.

That cold afternoon, Brody became my teacher. I saw that like him we all have some kind of handicap, whether it’s visible or not. Our childhoods and life experiences have molded us to hold certain beliefs, to behave in certain ways.

Perhaps we have prejudices about a certain group of people.

Perhaps we have learned not to trust men or women because of the ways our father or mother treated us.

Perhaps we grew up believing that the other guy is out to get us or that life is cruel.

Despite our handicaps – whether we judge them as good or bad – we need to move past them. How? For me, the first step is always awareness. I can’t change anything until I’m aware of it. So meditation is my go-to process to sit down and really listen to what’s going on inside.

I think it’s easy for any of us to feel self-righteous about our beliefs. But many times, we need to sit in silence to hear what’s lurking beneath the surface. And then, we can choose to do something about whatever we’ve noticed.

holdingspaceforyourselffeatureIt might be sacred activism. Or it may be more sitting time in meditation. Or prayer. Or walking. Whatever brings peace to our souls and to the world is always my bottom line.

In her book How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life Susan Piver equates fear to those times when we simply lose sight of anyone but ourselves in our effort to secure what we think we must have.

“You want to walk over the backs of others in high heels and it feels gooood,” she writes. But that feeling is momentary and passing. What lasts is stepping back, taking a breath and looking at the bigger picture. Listening to ourselves. Listening to others.

I go back to Brody who was walking with his own handicap. He was able to overcome it — not by offering aggression or fear. But by simply giving and being love.

And isn’t that a good start for all of us?

 

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A work in progress

I bumped into a friend walking her dog last evening. When I asked how she was, she raised her eyebrows in exasperation and said, “I just had a birthday.”

“I didn’t know. Belated happy birthday.”

The dog tugged at the leash and came to me, wagging her tail and begging to be petted.

“That’s OK,” she said. “It was the last birthday of a decade. The next one is the BIG 70.”

I smiled with understanding. I’m next — in a couple of years. The thought of 70 seems foreign to me since my spirit still feels and sometimes acts like it’s 21.

As I petted the dog one last time and she walked away, I got to thinking about life and what I’ve learned. Truth be told, what I’m still learning. Here are some thoughts.

Psychological-NoiseWebI KNOW NOTHING

That used to be the humorous saying on some TV show that I can’t recall. But seriously, I’ve found as I continue to age that I know nothing. In my earlier days I attended a wealth of seminars, workshops, devoured all manner of spiritual, psychological and self-help books, tapes and CDs.

In the end, they weren’t wasted. They helped me grow.

But if I’m honest, life has had its way with me, sometimes painful, sometimes joyful, and I’ve come to the point where I realize wisdom and knowledge are far beyond this frail, human mind and spirit. As Joni Mitchell sang, “I’ve looked at life from both sides now …” And sometimes, I really don’t know life at all.

But that’s a gift. Ironically, it’s only when I’m in that space of not-knowing that the Divine’s love and grace can have free rein.

LISTEN UP

I’m not seeing a lot of listening these days. This distresses me. We live in chaotic, uncertain times. It’s difficult to hold and open space to really listen and hear what the “other” is saying.

But when we’re in that space (see above, I know nothing), only then can we come to a fuller understanding of the other’s feelings or point of view. That takes some humility. And courage.

It doesn’t mean we have to agree. A friend and I had a heated political discussion the other day. It was difficult for me not to want to jump in and state my point of view. But I took deep breaths. Dug deep. Listened. We both found a bit more understanding.

An obscured figure behind frosted glass

PEOPLE WILL DISAPPOINT US

This one comes under the category of “expectations” and “acceptance.” Many times I’ve expected someone to do something or act in a certain way, only to step back and tell myself, “You’re not giving that person the freedom to be who they are.”

Another tough one. Yes, people will disappoint us. But it was Mother Teresa who said, in part:

“The good you do today will often be forgotten. Do good anyway. Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway. In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”

LIFE IS SHORT

Blink of an eye. Really. If you don’t have that realization yet, you will. And I don’t like it, not one bit because my ego tells me there are all manner of things I haven’t done yet, like writing my best-selling novel or traveling to Spain or Scotland. Any or all of that may or may not happen.

But the truth is, I can only “be” in the present moment and live from there, plan from there, love from there.

arms openBE GRATEFUL

For it all. Even what we call the “bad stuff.” I’ll end with a story I’ve always loved.

Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch watchmaker and Christian who, along with her father and other family members, helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II.

Because of her actions Corrie and her sister Betsy were held in a concentration camp where they lived in barracks plagued with lice. Lice were everywhere—in their hair and on their bodies.

One day, Betsy said to her, “Corrie, we need to give thanks to God for the lice.”

Corrie said, “Betsy, you have gone too far this time. I am not going to thank God for lice.”

Betsy said, “Oh, but Corrie, we are supposed to give thanks in all things. That’s what the Bible tells us.”

The thing is, the sisters had been trying to hold prayer meetings in the barracks but were concerned about the guards breaking in and shutting them down. But Corrie later found out, because of the lice, the guards refused to go into those barracks. And they were able to hold their Bible studies.

letting go open handI admit I’m not always good at giving thanks when things seem to go wrong. But I’m learning to be thankful for the metaphorical lice in my life.

And learning that I really don’t know a danged thing at all. And still learning to listen. To be in the moment. To accept all that is.

But that’s OK. I’m a work in progress. We all are. We can find comfort in that. We really can.

Because we are loved, right now, exactly as we are. Isn’t that amazing?

So we can take a deep breath, a sigh of relief. We can let go. Of our agendas. Expectations. Inability to listen. Our need to know everything.

For that, we can be truly thankful.

 

 

There are no others

Before the stroke, dad used to talk to anybody, anywhere. It didn’t matter. Waitress, cashier, postal clerk at the counter, stranger on the street.

He was fearless in approaching people and finding out their story. It used to embarrass the heck out of me, especially at restaurants.

He’d want to know the name of the waitress, about her job, her family. Meanwhile, as an awkward teenager, I’d cringe in my seat and hide myself behind the menu.

Now, as an adult, I understand. Dad was about connection. About recognizing the other as part of the whole.

It was about saying, “I see you and honor your presence” in the here and now. And about digging deeper to hear the other person’s story in a culture where we take so little time to listen.

So in my growing old age, I am following suit.

I travel the PA Turnpike on occasion and make it a point to chat with the person in the toll booth no matter how many cars are behind me.

Letting-go21As I was heading to a friend’s house on Christmas Eve day, I drove my car off the exit and up to the booth. I rolled down my window; the wind was biting and frigid. An African-American woman reached out her hand to take my fare. She looked exhausted and worn, a wool cap pushed down around her ears, her fingers peeking out of gloves with the tips cut off.

“How are you?” I asked.

She shrugged.

“You look cold. I hope they’re giving you some time off later for Christmas Eve.”

Then she spoke.

“It’s going to be a rough one.”

I waited as she handed me my change.

“My mother died a few months ago. It’s just not the same. I mean, she was there every Christmas, always there, and now …”

She stopped, her eyes tearing. She turned her head.

“I don’t know how I’m going to get through it.”

I took a deep breath and said, “Tell you what. I’ll say a little prayer for you, if you do that for me. I’m caring for my dad and it’s often hard. Maybe we can pray for each other.”

She smiled. “Thanks. And Merry Christmas.”

I wished her the same and was on my way.

It got me to thinking of how often I dismiss people — not out of meanness or arrogance (at least I hope not) — when I am caught up in my day-to-day doings. Sometimes encounters are simply functional, transactions that need to happen and then I move on.

women standing togetherBut lately, as I’ve said, I’ve been stopping myself. Taking time to be “present” to those I meet during the course of a day and truly “seeing” them as my fellow sisters and brothers. Sometimes people want to engage and talk, other times they don’t. I open myself to whatever wants to happen.

Some time ago, a friend and I were eating at a restaurant. Dad’s lessons came back to me and after the waitress took our order, I asked her name and a little more about her job (much to the embarrassment of my friend).

“Long day, I bet,” I said.

Raising her eyebrows, she answered, “You have no idea.”

I learned more. She was a single mom, one child at home sick, and she was going to her second job later in the day. I told her she was an amazing woman and she beamed.

“Gosh, thanks,” she whispered. “Nobody’s ever told me that before.”

I left her an extra tip.

Please know, this isn’t about something I’m doing that’s extraordinary. I know how subtle and insidious the ego can be. I share these stories only to propose how simple these exchanges are — and how life-changing they can be, on both sides of the equation.

In fact, being present to the people we meet during the course of a day is incredibly simple.

And as I age, I find myself drawn more and more to simplicity, pruning away and removing all that is of little importance. What I do find of importance, however, is the simple interchange of receiving the “other” (me and that person) as a gift — with a grateful heart.

I’ve come to see these encounters not only as sacred, but also as mini-surrenders. In other words, I’m giving up my time, my control of schedules or “whatever” to take a breath, listen and to see in them someone who is much like me, and I, like them.

birds flying girlSpiritual teacher, healer and writer Carolyn Myss has said:

“The inner work of personal transformation is not about personal healing for the sake of personal healing alone but to ultimately become someone prepared to take that healing to others, to become a channel of grace in the world.”

We become that channel when we come to the awareness shared in the following brief story.

A spiritual seeker once asked well-known Indian sage Ramana Maharshi:

How are we to treat others?

Maharshi answered:

There are no others.

So how do you want to be a gift of grace in the world today? To the other, who is you?

 

 

 

 

 

Sorrow and hope

Sometimes I am privileged to hear personal stories during the course of a day. Here are two about life’s sorrows and hopes. Although details have been slightly changed for privacy reasons, these stories are true.

*****

I had just returned from caring for dad. His house-calls doctor had examined him and was on her way out the door when I asked about her next patient.

“She’s only 29 and bedridden. Multiple sclerosis. She is unable to do anything for herself.”

My heart winced.

“Does she have anyone to care for her?” I asked.

“Her father only. Her mother died. Actually, she died this time last year.”

Once again the eternal “why” to the Divine rattled around in my soul and heart. I came back to my place and felt the need for the sadness in me to ground itself into the earth. So I took a walk.

WOMEN HEARTThe evening sky was painted with pewter-and-purple hues and the air was brisk and stung my lungs. I shoved my hands deep into my coat pockets and couldn’t help thinking about this young woman, about my own father, about so many others I know right now who are struggling with health issues, with finances, with painful life challenges.

I struggled to pray but words stuck in my throat and soul. Nothing felt genuine in my petitions and I felt no consolation or words of encouragement from on high or within.

What I needed was hope. There seemed to be so little of it these days, in the lives of so many I knew, in our world, in me.

As I walked, I bumped into one of my neighbors, an elderly woman, sitting on a bench. We began chatting and she could tell I was a bit troubled.

“Have a minute?” she asked. “Sit down. I have a story to tell you.”

She had been in her late 20s when her husband had walked out on her for another woman, leaving her with two small children. Her apartment lease was up and she had to be out the end of December. She had no place to live, had a meager income and was desperate.

She walked to the nearby Catholic church, empty and cold, and walked past the rows of pews down the aisle and knelt in front of a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

bvm-and-child“On my knees, I prayed and prayed and told her, ‘You are a mother.  You understand. Please help me. Help my children. We have no place to live and we have to be out of our apartment soon. I have nowhere to go. Help me, please. Help my children.”

And she began to weep. To sob.

“As I was crying, I heard a noise behind me,” she said. “I turned around and saw an elderly man standing there. The church was empty so I thought he must be the sacristan or janitor and he was there to clean up the church before Christmas.”

He looked at her with great concern and love, she recalls, and he said, “I can see that you’re troubled.” He dug into his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief.

“Here. Wipe your tears. You’re going to be OK. I promise you.”

She looked at the strange man and managed a smile through moist eyes. She turned her head to dry her tears and intended to return the handkerchief to this stranger.

“But when I looked behind me,” she told me, “there was no one there. He was gone. How could he have left so quickly?”

As she walked back down the aisle, she saw a woman mopping the floors in the back of the church.

“Did you see a man just now or going out the door?” she asked. “Just a few seconds ago.”

The woman said she had seen no one, that no one had been in the church for the last hour.

hopeWhen my neighbor went to her job the next day, a co-worker saw an ad in the newspaper for a nearby apartment. The landlord had specified no children, but when he met with her he told her it wouldn’t be a problem. He also told her she could move in right away and he would reduce the first month’s rent.

She began to cry in thanksgiving and then remembered the handkerchief the man had given her. She took it out of her coat pocket. In one of the corners she read an embroidered message: Love one another.

“I’m telling you this story because it’s true,” she said, smiling at me. “And because you look like you could use some hope. God and the angels are always with us. Don’t lose hope.”

I thanked her, tears now swimming in my eyes, and continued my walk.

Life will always be filled with sorrows, I told myself. With life challenges that will stretch our hearts and spirits to breaking at times. But it is only in that brokenness that we can be filled with a deeper and greater love. With miracles. With hope.

The sun began to set in layers of lavender and orange. My heart was full now and gushed forth with prayer. I whispered one of thanks.