The face of the New Year

We all long to be seen.

It is one of the deepest desires of the human heart. When we are seen, we are validated, affirmed. We feel to the core of our being that we are recognized at soul level.

In another’s face, we feel her or his heart meeting us. In Africa, certain forms of greeting mean “I see you.” And in Connemara, Ireland, a phrase used to describe admiration is, “The face of the people is toward you.”

This past year I have felt seen in various guises.

In my father, who, through clouded, cataract-laden eyes, greeted me with a smile every time I came into the house. In a dear friend who offered sanctuary, a space to heal and renew after days of caregiving. Another friend, who affirmed my writing and encouraged me to go forward.

Decades ago, when I was going through a rough time in life, I remember a spiritual director with whom I felt truly seen. He offered unconditional acceptance, presence, and generously allowed me to find my own way and my own soul.

Allowing ourselves to be seen, however, takes some courage.

I still struggle with this because it invites vulnerability. Perhaps this is why children and animals offer us the most authentic measure of being seen. They are not laden with expectations or past wounds, so in their faces we find the expressions of sacred innocence, of acceptance.

This Christmas, I leaned over into the crib of my four-month-old great niece, and in our first meeting our faces found each other in laughter and joy. And in my friend’s dog, who sees me — not only as someone who will play with her — but knows she can lick my face and hands in pure abandon.

This past year many lost the faces of those they loved. A family member or dear friend. A beloved pet. And while those physical countenances may be gone, the souls that embodied them live on.

Yes, we grieve. We cry. But on some level we know their spiritual faces are ever with us, seeing and loving us in new and other realms.

In this coming year, we will find more joys and sorrows, more losses and gains. How we approach the “face of the new year” will depend on the proportion of depth we bring to it.

I love the Irish writer John O’Donohue who speaks of the manner in which we view a landscape or a person for the first time. He advises us to take time, to be present to that moment, because we will never see that person or have that experience in the same way again.

Each day of this year will be much the same, moments that are fresh and untouched. How will we approach these precious seconds of time, what will we inscribe on them in those first meetings?

For myself, and for you all, I pray we may come to see ourselves with deeper love and gratitude for the holy beings we are. I pray we may recognize the common clay of our bodies as connected.

And instead of resolving to “do things” such as lose weight, exercise more, eat healthier, or stop this or that — all worthy goals — perhaps we can learn how to simply “be,” and in that being-ness discover ourselves more authentic, vulnerable, compassionate in the moment.

Meister Eckhart, mystic and theologian, wrote that we should worry not so much about what we do, but rather about what we are. And what we are, who we are, is love, pure and simple.

So, my prayer for us all for 2018 is that we may see the face of this new year with new eyes.

May we ask ourselves at the end of each day, as O’Donohue writes, “What did I really see this day?”

May it be love.

*******

(Wishing you all a blessed, joyous New Year, with gratitude for pausing here with me in these moments.)

 

 

 

 

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The sacred body

Spring is struggling to arrive. Purple and yellow flowers poke through brown earth and then shiver in frigid winds or are covered with an unexpected snow. The dance between spring and winter, mild days and biting cold, will linger until the seasons settle in on their true place in nature.

As I walked the other day, I was aware of how I struggle. To arrive. At my true nature and self.

Of how at times I accept the mystery and uncertainties of life with ease and grace and just as quickly, fall into a space of worry and angst.

What is life about? Why am I here? How am I meant to serve and a myriad of questions that leave me hanging on a cliff of unknowing.

Asking the questions takes courage, as does being human. And as I walked, I thought how brave we are to take on these human bodies.

We are, as mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote concerning the hero’s or heroine’s journey, embarking in a strange world where we are tested again and again.

I admit, I’ve always been more comfortable with my spiritual being than my earthly one. Being human is messy. Aches and pains as we age, grieving at the loss of those we love, battling with illnesses. And yet, it is also about aliveness.

Sue is a neighbor who is 90. She is vibrant, always smiling. I saw her yesterday with her adult daughter who had taken her grocery shopping.

“My mom was in the hospital on Thursday and Friday,” she said. “But then we celebrated my brother’s wedding on Saturday and there she was, dancing at the reception with the rest of us.”

Sue smiled at me. “I wasn’t going to let my body stop me. I was going to have fun. You have to do that in life, you know.”

Then there’s Grace. A neighbor of my brother’s I met years ago, she was always dashing here and there. In her 80s. Yoga. Biking. Meditation. I called her “amazing Grace” because she was.

“I’ve traveled to many countries,” she shared. “Alone. And I’ve loved it.”

These women were reminders I needed. That I still need every blessed day. Life and the human body may have its limitations but it’s also about aliveness. Sue and Grace both embody that effervescence and zest even as frailties encroach on their physical form.

When I visited Ireland many years ago, I was in awe of its raw wilderness, its unexplored places that were filled with so many possibilities for aliveness. These spaces were sacred invitations to slow down, to listen to my own breathing in the stillness, to discover a deeper sense of my own being and body.

In fact, Buddhist author Reginald Ray describes the body as “the last unexplored wilderness.”

Our body offers infinite wisdom and yet, we rarely pause to reflect on the rich and vibrant possibilities in this physical form. We fail to stop and ask what our bodies might need — sleep, rest, play, exercise, quiet?

And in a world that is body-obsessed and many times makes us feel “less than,” we can choose perhaps to enter the body’s wisdom with mindfulness.

In her book The Wisdom of the Body: A Contemplative Journey to Wholeness for Women, author Christine Valters Paintner writes that we can follow a balanced path where we don’t try to go to extremes in our spiritual practice.

“The sense that everything is holy, for me is the heart of the monastic path and so points to our bodies as sacred vessels as well,” she says. “The Celtic tradition has such a body and earth-honoring sensibility to it, and the desert monks taught me much about how to be with difficult thoughts and judgments as well as how to cultivate a capacity for presence to my experience as an expression of love.”

We can stay grounded, she says, by tending to our breath and tracking our inner experience.

So, I am learning, as I always am. As spring struggles for balance with winter, I, too, am learning to find balance between my spiritual body and earthly body. Both are important. Both needed. Both sacred.

And I am learning, with the seasons, to embrace my body for the gifts it offers. To see my body as an expression of love.

To come home to myself. Again and again.