Archive for September, 2011

“Only from the heart can you touch the sky.”

— Jalal ad-Din Rumi

I am not a very big person.  At 5’3″, there are times when I feel vertically challenged.  The top shelves of my cabinets hold only the items that I use rarely, and Grandpa offers a much longer hand-holding ride down the sliding board than my limited reach will allow.  My great-aunt Essie, who was 4′ 11″, used to tell me that her legs were not too short “because they were long enough to reach the ground; and that is all that matters.”

My arms are long enough to reach just about anything I could need.  They can carry the things I need to do my work.  They can enfold my babies and wrap around my sweetheart when I want to hold them close.  They can reach high into the air above my head as I wave in greeting or farewell to the people I treasure.  There are others whose arms are longer than mine; but I’ve found that the ones that match my stature are more than adequate in performing the tasks I need to do each day.  But they cannot touch the sky.

Essie has been gone from my world now for nearly thirty-three years.  I remember how long it has been, because she died on my birthday; and the fact that my birth and her death are forever connected in this way keeps her memory even more fresh than it would have been simply because of the love we shared.  It keeps us close enough to reach out and touch one another — but my arms are too short to touch the sky.

The reach of my heart goes far beyond the length of my arms.  Its range is as limitless as the Love that created it in the first place; and it was the people I loved who left this plane for the next one who taught me, by their departure, the extent to which my heart can reach.  When I leave behind the limitations of my physical body, with its short stature and matching arms, and go to the place in my heart where Love abides, I discover that I truly can touch the sky; because the sky and the sea and the earth and the universe all are within the Love that dwells at the center of each of us.  There is no need to stretch, because we are the sky in the place where we touch without arms.

As I think today of Essie, I can almost hear her saying, “well, my arms may be short, but my heart is big enough to touch the sky; and that is what matters.”

“Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree.”

— Emily Bronte

A fierce thunderstorm blew into town last night, rattling the windows and sending sheets of rain that made it impossible to see past the edge of the porch.  It was as though the whole world had washed away in an instant, leaving our house adrift in the middle of a vast ocean.  As the rain began to subside, we could see that our cars had been washed — free of charge — and the road in front of our house sparkled and glistened as shiny and black as coal, since every speck of dust had been washed down the gutters and into the storm drains at the end of the block.  This is one of my favorite things about a good storm.  I love the way it leaves the world sparkling and fresh and new.

This morning, after the rain was gone, I grabbed the dog’s leash and set out for my morning walk through the park.  As we squished through the swamp that once was my backyard, I realized that not every surface was sparkling and clean.  Some were soggy and muddy and dank.  As we turned onto the alley behind the house, I was hit right between the eyes by Fall.  There it was.  The pelting rain was all it had taken to encourage the large sycamore behind my neighbor’s house to release all the brown leaves that were hanging indecisively on its branches, unsure about committing to the change of seasons.

All along our walk, we began to see the blanket of autumn leaves that Mother Nature is weaving from day to day.  Our footsteps echoed on the pavement, splashed through the puddles and now and then fell silently on the leaf carpet that was beginning to fill the ground below the trees.  I felt the silence echo through my whole being.  “The end is near,” it whispered, and I could smell the change in the aroma of leaves sinking into the wet earth.

Fall has always been my favorite season.  Perhaps it is the paradoxical nature of a time when beauty heralds the end of another year.  I have always hoped that when my own end comes it will be beautiful, too; and when the leaves begin to turn colorful and the smell of decay begins to sting my nostrils, I spend some time with my own mortality.  I think of the places I have been and the people I have loved and the world of beauty that has cycled around me for more than sixty years.  I think of the way that the year dies — in color and beauty and silence, carried gently away on the breeze.  I watch the birds gather for their Fall flight to places far away, and I think, “yes, they know it is time,” and I try to take in their wisdom so that one day I also will know that it is time to move on.

As I drink in all that Fall has to offer, I celebrate the paradoxical nature of color and dying, of sunlight and wind; and I hold in my heart the Truth that winter will come, but Spring will burst forth again when it is over.

“Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.”

— Miles Davis

Who we are today is the sum of all the days and all the experiences we have lived up to this very moment.  From the time we are born, every person we meet and every event of our lives writes on the blank slate we bring with us to the world.  For many years, we practice the things we have seen other people do, testing our legs as we learn to walk our path through life.  Then, one day, if we are very lucky, we discover that there is something uniquely “us” that colors the way we think and speak and live.  We discover that there is something deep inside us that wraps itself around all that we have learned and gives it a new spin — a new sound — that we add to the universe.

Just as a symphony requires the sound of each instrument in order for its music to be complete, so the universe is waiting for the sound of each unique voice, each individual life, to complete the symphony of Creation.  Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself. What is important is to keep on playing, keep on singing, keep on bringing what is uniquely yours to everyone you meet.  After all, you never know whose slate you might be writing on at any given moment — whose voice you may be exercising so that one day she, too, can sing a beautiful song.

“Truth is not only violated by falsehood; it may be equally outraged by silence.”

— Henri Frederic Amiel

Truth will find a way to be heard.  It is the basis for all we live and do and believe and speak.  Even lies grow out of Truth.  Without it, there would be no touchstone for constructing something contrary to what is real, is enduring, is true.  There is something about Truth that resonates within us.  Perhaps it is because our created essence is one with Truth; and, like truth, when all that does not belong falls away, it is what remains at the core of our existence.

We are bombarded every day by twisted stories and corrupt versions of what is real and what is true.  These lies cling to us like burrs in a field of wildflowers; and often, like our time spent in the field, they are the price we pay for seeking the things that are beautiful and real and enduring.  We must take the time to reach down and, one by one, remove the burrs life throws at us.  They already are dead and serve no purpose, but they hold on as though they want to embrace us and be our companions as we walk.  What we must take with us is the fragrance of the flowers, the beauty and color of their presence, and the fleeting nature of our time with them.  We must leave behind the things of today and make room for those that will arrive tomorrow.  The Truth that really matters will travel with us, not in our arms or stuck with barbs to our legs, but in our hearts.

Carry the Truth with you wherever you go.  Hold it close in your heart, but don’t hold it captive.  Sing its song as you pause to remove the burrs that cling to you.  Let the beautiful song of Truth be heard so that others will be encouraged by its message of hope.  It is easy to know the Truth when you see it.  Just hold it up to the mirror of your heart, and all that is not real — is not True — will fall away.

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

— T.S. Eliot

“Now you’ve gone too far!”  Are these the words we dread hearing?  Do we confine ourselves to the known norm and avoid the risk associated with stepping outside the lines because we are afraid that someone will think we have gone too far?  There is no doubt that living requires some degree of conformity with the others who inhabit our world.  If each of us paid attention only to our own ideas, impulses, and desires, we would find ourselves constantly scrapping for whatever small morsel of happiness we might hope to hold.  The problem lies in confusing living with life.

We can become so wrapped up in the daily struggle of living in our world that we forget to seek the things that make us truly alive.  One person seldom understands the passion of another.  Beyond the polite interactions and the respect for others we meet, each of us must risk going beyond the edge of our comfort zone and into the unknown.  Fear and excitement are very close relatives.  They stir our emotions and cause our adrenaline to flow, preparing our bodies for action.  We must be careful not to confuse danger and adventure, or we may spend our whole lives longing for something that lies just beyond our edge — something wonderful that we fear might be dangerous.  If we are born with a purpose for being alive, a purpose that defines our unique contribution to the whole of humanity, then it is only reasonable that there will be times when we find ourselves perched on the edge of exciting new adventures that will lead us to fulfill our life’s mission.  There is no prison that confines us.  We are free to choose.

How will we ever know how far we can go if we are afraid of going too far?  The sky is the limit.

“We cannot let another person into our hearts or minds unless we empty ourselves.  We can truly listen to him or truly hear her only out of emptiness.”

— M. Scott Peck

How can I empty myself and then invite you in to chat?  Won’t you be lonely if you enter an empty room, unattended by its host?  Will the echo of your own words only intensify the feelings of separation and abandonment that first prompted you to knock on my door?  What will it serve to remove myself from my own heart or mind when you come to share your thoughts with me?

If we all are one when we get beneath the surface of our personalities, our experiences, the layers of pain and joy and history that define us as individuals, then there certainly would be value in removing that ego portion of ourselves when someone comes to visit and be heard.  When I clear away the things that define me as different from you, what remains is the essence that we share.  Far from feeling like walking into an empty hall with no host, a visit to another’s essence feels like a homecoming — an entering into the warm, familiar sanctuary that we may be unable to find beneath the debris of our own daily living.

Have you ever had the experience of trying to share a deep feeling with a friend, only to have it collide with the other person’s emotions and bounce back to you before it is understood?  A listener whose own ego lies strewn around her heart and mind will invite her friend into an obstacle course where being heard is a tiresome task.  When our own preconceptions get in the way of what the other person is saying, we may think that we hear them when really we only hear our own thoughts echoing off the clutter that stands in the way between us.

When we truly empty our own clutter from our inner sanctuary, the way is clear for us to move close to the visitor, place an arm around her shoulder, and let her speak.  As we stand there together, perhaps we can hear her truth echo back from the safe walls that surround us.  Perhaps, then, we both can hear that what really matters is the love and truth that surrounds  us.  Perhaps, then, we can hear our own peaceful voices amid the chaos, telling us that it will be all right.

“When our eyes see our hands doing the work of our hearts, the circle of Creation is completed inside us, the doors of our souls fly open, and love steps forth to heal everything in sight.”

— Michael Bridge

My dreams must have been spiraling last night, because my first waking thought this morning was of circles.  I’m sure part of the reason is my anticipation of a new drum circle — right down the street from where I live.  Today will be the first time we gather in this new location; and I expect to see some old friends and familiar faces and to meet some surprising new people who will widen my circle of interactions.

As I lay in bed this morning, I thought of all the circles that fill my days.  There is the circle of family, the circles of friends who share the same interests, the circle of neighbors who form the community where we live.  As my thoughts ran through the events of the day ahead, I remembered another circle that would be meeting this afternoon, a family circle that will form when Daniel brings our two little girlies to play while he works on a project with his dad.  Emily will join that circle when she finishes her work shift at three.  Before long, I was thinking of how much Uncle Dave would enjoy seeing his nieces and making plans to call him to join us around the table for supper.

It only takes a thought of part of our circle of family coming together to conjure up a picture of the whole group — some in Atlanta, some away for the weekend, some right here in our home; but all are in our hearts any time a few of us gather.  That is the magical thing about circles.  Whenever we form one, it allows us to see all the people who make up the group.  There is no far end of the line outside of our view.  Circles bring us all together, face to face, hand in hand, and heart to heart.  It is there that we can join with others to do the work of our hands, seeing that we are not alone, and releasing the love that springs from our souls and becomes the Love of Creation which heals the world.

Wherever you go today, be sure to notice the circles that draw you in.  Bring your best to each one, discover the joy in shared work and play.  Together we truly can bring healing to the world.

“Love endures only when the lovers love many things together and not merely each other.”

— Walter Lippmann

As I kissed my sweetheart goodbye this morning, I had a flash of memory that took me back to the time when we first met.  He was a handsome young man with light auburn hair and a matching mustache.  He was active and strong and his eyes twinkled when he laughed.  He is not the man I married.  Sixty pounds later, his physique shows the strain of a back injury that limited his movement a bit.  The red in his hair was the first to gray, and now his hair is a sort of light brown color with silver edges.  His eyes still twinkle, but that twinkle is not always directed at me any more.  I suppose that stands to reason, since I am no longer the woman he married either.  Back then, I slid easily into my size 8 jeans and still could turn a pretty good handspring in order to impress our kids.  My eyes also twinkled, and I loved seeing my own reflection twinkling back when I looked into my sweetheart’s eyes.  Young love — new love — has a life all its own, and it still takes only a kiss goodbye to remind me of those blissful and exciting days.

Twenty-six years later, our eyes still twinkle; but instead of bouncing the sparkle only between ourselves, we find that we spend more time standing side by side and shining our light outward.  We twinkle on our children and our grandchildren.  We twinkle into the brilliance of a spectacular sunrise, and we let our sparkle linger as the setting sun gives the sky over to the stars of night.  There is a depth to the sort of love that no longer needs another’s eyes to shine only for our beloved; and as the light inside us has found its depth, we find that we glow much brighter when we embrace the world together.  It is in that discovery of oneness that new love matures and becomes something far richer — something that calls us, together, to find our common ground with more and more of the universe.

Perhaps it is that discovery of ourselves in one other being that leads us on to the discovery that we are not alone, that we are not separate, that we are one with all that is.  Still it is nice, when we kiss goodbye each morning, to see myself in the light of my sweetheart’s twinkling eyes.  For just a moment, I am young and slim and turning cartwheels again.  But even in the darkness, as we hold hands and drift off to sleep, I can feel the glow of the love we share that reaches far beyond the days when we fell into love.

Stirring Fall

The witch of Autumn

Stirs her brew

Of summer breeze

And fallen clouds.

It swirls and carries

Leaves and flowers

Dancing in its

Pirouette.

Around they fly

Until, at last,

Their spinning spent,

They fall and die.

The rain of Autumn

Splashes down.

Its magic touch

And tapping sound,

Ignites the colors

All around.

Tears of ending

Press them down,

Make them one

With waiting ground,

As all the colors

Turn to brown.

The birds of Autumn

Heed the call

Of waiting winter’s

Icy promise.

Gathering,

They squawk and plan,

Until, as one,

They all take flight.

With longing wings

They wave goodbye

To summer’s lazy

Blissful days,

And vanish in

The Autumn haze.

© Pamela Stead Jones 2011

“We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.”

Kenji Miyazawa

Transformation seems to be at the forefront again today.  In so many places in our lives, we see contrasts that would have us believe that everything in the world is dualistic — black or white, hot or cold, loving or hateful, good or bad.  In truth, things are not so divided as they seem; and it is through seeing the extremes that we are able to find our way to the middle — to the bridge between the opposites.  It is there, in the middle, that we can transform the extremes into a balanced and useful sort of energy that allows us to live our lives in a meaningful way.

We all have heard that we cannot become courageous unless we have known fear.  Without the dark experience of feeling afraid, we cannot discover the strength and light within us that expresses itself as courage — not because the fearsome things disappear, but because we trust in our own power to overcome fear.  I suppose it could read something like a recipe book.  Courage:  Take one cup of fear.  Add three tablespoons of love and 1/2 cup of light.  Mix well.  Let stand, covered, for a short time.  Remove lid and enjoy.

If that is what we do with fear, how can we transform pain into something useful — something beautiful — rather than allowing it to weigh us down?  I am watching my youngest daughter right now as she mends from knee surgery.  She is strong and stoic and determined to return to full function as soon as she possibly can.  And she is in pain.  I can see it in her eyes when she grows tired so much more quickly than usual.  I can hear it in her voice and in her frustration when she needs to ask for help with things she ordinarily would do for herself.  Still, I am watching her courageously refusing to fall down under the weight of her pain.  She is sweet and grateful when she needs to ask for help.  Through making the effort to remain who she is in the face of her pain, she is growing stronger and stronger.  What is it that allows her to transform this painful experience into something that lifts her up and carries her along, in spite of her circumstances?

I return to my recipe for courage, because I can see that courage has defeated fear in my daughter’s healing journey.  I think of the way that her love and light transform fear into courage.  Then I imagine that pain enters the picture.  I have often heard it said that the fear of  pain is more painful that the hurt itself.  As Emily’s pain is bathed in her courage, another transformation seems to occur — one that changes pain to determination.  As she faces her pain without fear and knows that it is only part of the healing process, Emily is able to make her pain part of the energy that moves her toward the end of pain and the return of health.  It is courage that removes the weight of pain and lights the fire that consumes it as fuel for the journey.  It’s all about transformation; and each time we are transformed we bring new power to the next challenge.  Do not be weighed down by fear or pain.  Embrace them.  Transform them.  Use them as fuel for your journey.